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  xFriday, July 11, 2003

bush action not so bad after all


Late last year, I noted with some umbrage the Bush Administration's reinstatement of a policy of giving bonuses to political appointees; a practice suspended by the Clinton Administration over ethical concerns (irony just drips like honey from that sentence, doesn't it?).

I'm pleased to learn in this morning's Washington Post that the figures are in, and predictions of large-scale politcal patronage payoffs seem not to have materialized this time.
The Bush administration doled out $1.44 million in bonuses to 470 political appointees last year, according to an Office of Personnel Management report.

The White House's decision last year to end an eight-year ban on such cash awards imposed by the Clinton administration touched off a fury of criticism in December from Democrats, unions and some policy experts who said the move slighted ordinary federal employees and encouraged political favoritism.

The administration defended the practice as a just means of rewarding exceptional performance, noting that career federal employees have long been eligible for similar bonuses. Officials earlier described the awards as a "drop in the bucket" within an overall federal civilian payroll of $100 billion.

...The cash awards went to about 19 percent of the 2,478 political appointees who ranked below those confirmed by the Senate and therefore were eligible for the bonuses. The average award of $3,064 represented a little more than 3 percent of the average salary of $99,583 earned by eligible appointees.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) obtained the bonus report from OPM Director Kay Coles James after an eight-month wait, and provided a copy yesterday to The Washington Post. The report did not name the appointees who received the bonuses.

Not everyone is happy with the policy, of course; the possibility of ethical abuses is still very real, for example. And there's this interesting tidbit.
The 2002 bonuses have come at a time when the government's 2 million civilian employees have been reeling from administration moves to limit pay increases, open up more government jobs to bidding from private contractors and rewrite personnel rules at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

"It's typical of the Bush administration to reward the elite and ignore working Americans," said Diane Witiak, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union. "This is reflected in his tax cuts and his privatization policies that favor his big corporate friends, and in his treatment of government workers. He says he cares about federal employees, he respects them and they're doing a good job. But then he slams them every time."

Realizations that Bush says one thing while ppursuing policies that have an opposite effect are, of course, becoming increasingly common. But frankly, as long as matters remain at this level, I'm inclined to give the Bush Administration a pass on this one. This Administration's fiscal mismanagement is too vast to be affected by a million bucks or two. Besides, there are bigger fish to catch.

While this iteration of the policy seems relatively benign, however, the fact that it was reinstated on the Q.T. instills little confidence in the Bush Administration's good intentions. And then there's that eight-month wait... This Administration's obsession with secrecy and avoidance of accontability makes it hard for skeptics to assume that Bush and company are acting in the nation's best interests. I'll be following developments with interest.





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