Bush reinstates bonuses for political appointees
Ron Fournier
Associated Press
Dec. 4, 2002 11:35 AM

WASHINGTON - The White House has reinstated a program awarding large cash bonuses to political appointees, a practice that had been stopped during the Clinton administration because of concerns about potential abuse.

The program was authorized early this year by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, but was not previously disclosed, according to White House officials.

The program, first reported by the New York Times, is taking place amid widespread frustration among career federal workers. Bush recently denied them the full raise sought by Congress, and gave the private sector more power to compete for federal jobs.

The bonus program allows political employees to be given bonuses for superior work alongside career federal workers, who already are eligible for merit bonuses. Critics, including former Clinton administration officials who helped end the practice, say the program could be used to reward employees for their political activity.

In light of past concerns, Card's memo directs federal management to make sure that all bonuses are reviewed by high ranking agency officials.

"Federal workers deserve to be rewarded for good work and there should not be a distinction between those who do good work because they're civil, and those who do good work because they're appointed," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "Good work is good work and good work by federal employees - all of whom are paid by the taxpayers - should be rewarded."

According to Fleischer, cabinet-level officials and agency chiefs are authorized for the first time in eight years to approve annual bonuses of up to just over $15,000 for the influential senior officials brought into the administration by Bush's team. Many of these employees already earned $115,000 to $140,000.

No new spending will be required to finance the bonuses, he said. Currently, 1.8 million workers are eligible, he said; The new policy makes some 2,000 more eligible.

White House workers cannot receive them, he said. Asked why, he said: "I'd like to find that out myself, frankly."

"All awards must be based on substantial work achievements that go well beyond the performance of routine duties," said the March 29 memo from Card. "Political employees should be judged and rewarded in the same manner as career employees."

The change makes about 2,100 political appointees eligible for bonuses.

Leon Panetta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, prohibited the bonuses after negative publicity about payments given out in the last days of the first Bush White House.

President Bush exempted employees of the new Department of Homeland Security from many worker protections and announced last week that scheduled pay raises would be smaller than anticipated by Congress. He also has announced a program allowing the private sector to bid for jobs now held by federal employees.

The program is having its strongest impact on the Justice Department, where there is a large number of political employees and Attorney General John Ashcroft has been the first to dole out bonuses. Officials say bonuses were paid to several Justice Department officials who played a key role in the Sept. 11 investigation.

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