Federal File

Bonus Round

New board will rate department officials for boosts in pay.

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There’s a group of people at the Department of Education whom employees might want to be especially nice to in the next few weeks.

They’re the members of the department’s Performance Review Board, formed recently to help rate just how well members of the Senior Executive Service, which includes top career employees and political appointees, are doing their jobs and determine what their bonuses and salary increases should be.

A lot is at stake. Last year, Education Week found that some Education Department employees were awarded bonuses as high as $71,000 for 2003. Other bonuses for high-ranking employees ranged from $10,000 to $46,900. ("Most in Ed. Dept. Are Paid Bonuses for Performance," Sept. 1, 2004.)

There were a few complaints. Employee-union members complained that there were no established criteria for awarding the bonuses and that the amounts in some cases seemed arbitrary.

Critics also complained about large bonuses specifically for political appointees, saying the practice sent the wrong message to career employees with lower salaries. President Bill Clinton had barred bonuses for political employees during his tenure in part for that reason, but in March 2002, the White House under President Bush issued a memo saying political employees were again eligible.

Now, in response to a regulation issued in October 2004 by the Office of Personnel Management, federal agencies must establish performance-review boards to rate individuals’ performance and make decisions on compensation, said Kevin R. Walter, an OPM spokesman.

The Education Department’s plan was certified earlier this year, and this is the first time the review board at the department will do its job, he said.

Kevin F. Sullivan, the department’s assistant secretary for outreach and communication, said the board met for the first time last week and is starting the process of reviewing assessments of employees. It won’t make recommendations for several weeks, and Mr. Sullivan said it would be premature to talk about the process until it’s complete.

But the board members will presumably be insulated from any bald attempts by employees to curry favor. So department employees shouldn’t attempt to sway them by giving them coveted parking spaces, putting designer coffee in their mugs, or making sure they don’t have to go begging for Post-Its.

Vol. 25, Issue 14, Page 28

Published in Print: December 7, 2005, as Bonus Round

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