Federal File

August 06, 2003 1 min read

Take-Home Pay

Shopping around Washington for a political appointment? You may want to consider the Department of Education.

After all, the bonuses are pretty good. And the chances of getting one of those cash awards aren’t bad either, at least compared with some other federal agencies.

Some 37 appointees at the Education Department received a combined total of $153,250 in bonuses last year, according to data released in June by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management.

That eclipses all but one other department or agency in the total number of bonuses, and the amount doled out.

To be fair, in 2002 the Education Department had more political appointees eligible for bonuses—179 in all—than most other agencies. Even so, the department was especially generous. Bonuses governmentwide for political appointees averaged $3,064. Those pushing the cause of education got quite a bit more for the effort: an average of $4,142.

The data were released in response to a request by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

The idea of handing out bonuses to political appointees is not without controversy. For instance, critics contend that the extra cash may be given for political loyalty rather than job performance.

While the top brass—those officials requiring Senate approval—are legally barred from getting bonuses, President Clinton sought to end the practice for other appointees at the upper salary levels. That eight- year ban was overturned last year by the Bush administration. (Many agencies routinely ignored the ban, though the Education Department honored it.)

“Career” employees—civil servants who keep their jobs regardless of who is in power—have long been eligible for bonuses.

William J. Leidinger, the department’s assistant secretary for management, said politics isn’t part of the equation in handing out bonuses. “We evaluate political appointees on the very same basis that we reward career folks,” he said. “Performance and results.”

As to the apparent disparity with other agencies, he said: “I can’t speak to what other agencies did. ... I feel very comfortable that what we did was quite proper, it was done for the right reasons, and it was done in a very considerate way.”

Erik W. Robelen