The Social Security Administration spent $32 million on employee bonuses last year at a time it was pressing Congress for millions more to deal with serious problems in its disability programs. The largest single award--$9,256--went to an executive who had been on the job for less than three months.
Two-thirds of the agency’s 65,000 employees got a cash bonus in 1993, according to Social Security spokesman Phil Gambino.
Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the biggest award went to Lawrence Thompson, who was named the agency’s second-ranking executive by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala on July 19, 1993.
His bonus, recommended by Social Security Commissioner Shirley Sears Chater and approved by Shalala, was for the fiscal year that ended 73 days later, on Sept. 30, Gambino said. Thompson’s annual salary is $120,594.
Social Security is not unique among federal agencies in awarding employee bonuses.
But the agency’s decision to spend $32 million is striking because Social Security lobbied Congress last year for more money to process a growing backlog of disability claims. Some ill and injured workers have died, lost their homes or turned to welfare while they waited for their first check.
Rep. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the senior Republican on a Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees a part of Social Security, said an agency that admits to problems in its disability programs should not be rewarding “the people in the system.”
Gambino said the bonuses are meant to reward a work force of 65,000 stretched thin by a 20% cut in the number of employees and growing demands for services.
He argued that the bonus for Thompson covers both his work at Social Security and his last nine months at the General Accounting Office, where he served as assistant comptroller general for human resource programs.
Gambino said the bonus rewards Thompson for his “outstanding” work at the GAO and his “excellent” tenure while serving as acting commissioner of Social Security until Chater took over in October, 1993.