The Social Security Administration spent $32 million on employee bonuses last year at a time when it was pressing Congress for millions 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.
His bonus, recommended by Social Security Commissioner Shirley 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 additional 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 Social Security check.
Congress gave the agency an extra $200 million to speed up those decisions, and Rep. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) questions whether Social Security would have been able to finance its bonuses without that money.
Bunning, the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee, called the bonuses outrageous and criticized the agency for giving Thompson such a large sum after such a short time on the job.
“To get $9,256 for 2 1/2 months of service in the Social Security Administration, that is an outrage that we all ought to be made aware of,” Bunning said.
Gambino argued that Thompson’s bonus 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.
The money to pay for the bonus, however, came out of Social Security’s budget. And Thompson would not have received a bonus if he had stayed at GAO, because that agency didn’t have the money for any awards.
Gambino said the agency awarded bonuses to 2,891 high-level managers totaling $3.1 million, or an average of $1,060 per person.
An additional 42,727 rank-and-file workers collected bonuses totaling $29.1 million, or an average of $681 each. The cost of the bonuses to Thompson and 25 other senior executives totaled $172,822.
Agencies are allowed to give annual cash awards equal to 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of their total payroll costs, Gambino said. Social Security’s bonuses amounted to 1.4 percent of its total payroll.
Bonuses are based on the employee’s work performance and salary. Gambino said they are meant to reward a work force of 65,000 stretched thin by a 20% cut in the number of employees and growing demands.