McCaskill wants more oversight of SES bonuses

Wednesday - 9/25/2013, 6:53pm EDT

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wants to know whether many of the federal government's Senior Executive Service members are deserving of the bonus payments they receive.

McCaskill, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, wrote to the head of the Government Accountability Office, asking the watchdog agency to investigate whether bonuses paid to SES employees involved in contract management are effective tools in reducing costs or improving contract performance.

"There is ample evidence to suggest that performance bonuses have been issued by government departments and agencies to SES employees as a routine matter of course with little regard to actual performance," McCaskill wrote in the letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

The letter asks GAO to examine the metrics used to measure the performance of SES employees involved in contract management, how SES bonuses are linked to contract savings and whether contract performance has improved since the pay-for-performance bonuses were implemented.

"Most federal agencies lack sufficient, quantifiable metrics with which to determine whether SES employees are deserving of the bonuses that they receive, making oversight of the process difficult," McCaskill wrote.

McCaskill said the focus on contract-management SES employees stems from testimony at a recent Senate committee hearing, in which a GAO official told lawmakers the Homeland Security Department had increased its use of strategic sourcing in part through award bonuses to SES members.

This isn't the first time McCaskill has scrutinized SES pay.

Joined by Republican colleagues Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), McCaskill introduced legislation in May to prohibit all SES bonuses while the across-the-board sequestration budget constraints are in effect. The bill was referred to the homeland security committee but has not had a hearing.

According to a report McCaskill's office released earlier this year, 6,519 members of the SES received bonuses in 2011 — about 81 percent of all SES employees.

However, the Senior Executives Association, which represents the 8,000 SES members in the federal government, disputes that figure and is skeptical of many of McCaskill's claims about SES performance awards.

Data from the Office of Personnel Management obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that 68.5 percent of SES members received bonuses in 2011, SEA President Carol Bonosaro told Federal News Radio.

McCaskill's views on SES performance awards "are not being driven by the facts," she said.

"The silver lining in all this, we would hope, would be that GAO can shed some light on the actual facts of the SES performance award system," Bonosaro said.

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