Federal Workers Travel Easy On The Gravy Train
Congressional testimony on outlandish bonuses at the Department of Veterans Affairs is the latest proof that the nation needs to overhaul how federal workers in every department are paid and promoted. They’re on the gravy train, and taxpayers are being taken for a ride.
Back in 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act to replace patronage with a federal civil service where workers would be hired and paid based on merit. There is no “merit” anymore. Scramble the letters. What you have now is a “timer” system. Workers put in time and get hefty salaries and bonuses, regardless of work quality, with virtually no risk of being fired.
Gina Farrisee, assistant secretary for human resources at Veterans Affairs, told Congress last Friday that executive bonuses “are awarded only after a rigorous and diligent review.” Nonsense.
The regional director overseeing the VA hospital in Pittsburgh collected a $63,000 award in 2012 shortly after six vets treated there died needlessly from legionella, an infection traced directly to poor maintenance of the facility.
The Government Accountability Office investigated VA hospitals nationwide and reported in July 2013 that doctors get bonuses regardless of work quality.
A radiologist cited for mistakes reading mammograms got an $8,216 bonus, even though a professional standards board deemed him unqualified to continue his current duties. A surgeon suspended for 14 days for abandoning a patient on the operating table and leaving the medical center, with only unsupervised residents to complete the procedure, still got a $11,189 annual bonus.
Novel Concern At IRS
But it’s not just the VA. Every federal department has this putrid culture.
The Internal Revenue Service doles out bonuses to employees guilty of illegal drug use, unemployment benefits fraud, even tax evasion. A Treasury Inspector General’s report released April 22 states that “with few exceptions, the IRS does not consider tax compliance or other misconduct when issuing performance awards or most other types of awards.”
Yet IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told Congress last week that using a special independent prosecutor to investigate IRS targeting of conservative groups “would be a monumental waste of taxpayer funds.” That’s a novel concern at the IRS or any federal agency.
The Pendleton Act stipulated that federal employees would be hired and promoted based on merit. But merit no longer matters.
Take the Environmental Protection Agency worker making $125,000 a year who spent hours a day watching porn, including four hours on a website called “Sadism is Beautiful.” Yet he received performance awards.
“How much pornography would it take for an EPA employee to lose their job?” asked Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., during an Oversight Committee hearing in May.
The answer is that firing a federal worker is almost impossible, and making it stick even less likely. Data from the Office of Personnel Management indicate that it is five times as hard to get fired from a federal job as from a private sector one.
Incredibly, most federal departments have even laxer standards than the VA. Jeff Neely, the General Services Administration employee pictured in a hot tub sipping wine on taxpayer money, retired with full benefits after the lavish 2010 Las Vegas boondoggle he planned was uncovered in the media. Co-worker Paul Prouty was fired but then reinstated with almost a year of back pay after appealing.
It’s been claimed that federal workers settle for lower pay in exchange for job security. Don’t believe it.
A worker with a high school education earns 21% more working for the federal government than for a private employer and gets 72% more in benefits.
A worker with a bachelor’s degree also makes out better with Uncle Sam, getting about the same wages as in the private sector but 46% more in benefits.
Only professionals such as lawyers, medical doctors and Ph.D.s get paid less in federal jobs than private sector ones, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
In addition, the federal workplace offers 10 paid holidays, plus 13 to 26 days annual vacation (depending on longevity) and up to 13 paid sick days a year. All in all, up to 49 paid days off.
That’s Easy Street. Meanwhile, taxpayers are on the Road to Serfdom, working longer and paying more to support a government that does not serve them.