The federal General Services Administration has handed out more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses since 2008 to dozens of employees who were under investigation for misconduct.
Already under fire for its lax oversight of spending, the GSA gave bonuses to at least 84 of its employees while they were being investigated, according to a Senate analysis. Some were as low as several hundred dollars, while one employee received nearly $76,000 over five years.
The number of employees who received the bonuses while under investigation by the GSA's inspector general could be even higher. Information related to some of its current work isn't yet available, including an examination of a lavish conference in Las Vegas three years ago that outraged lawmakers and led to the resignation of agency Administrator Martha Johnson and the dismissal of two of her deputies in April.
The GSA, which oversees the business of the federal government and is its landlord and contracting officer, is still facing questions over the nearly $1 million Las Vegas event, which featured $7,000 worth of sushi rolls, a mind reader for entertainment and $20,000 worth of gift iPods. Employee airfare to the conference alone cost $147,000.
To critics, the revelation of the bonuses represents yet another example of a less-than-rigorous approach to fiscal responsibility.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, said the agency had a "culture of entitlement," particularly among senior managers, that rewarded "bad judgment."
"It's the process that's disturbing," McCaskill said. "We don't have a policy in place that says if employees are under investigation, at a minimum you need to withhold bonuses "
GSA spokesman Adam Elkington said the agency was conducting a "top-to-bottom review" of how it operated.
"This comprehensive review includes all bonus payouts in recent years, especially for those individuals under investigation by GSA's inspector general," Elkington said.
Inspectors general assigned to federal agencies look into issues concerning waste, fraud and abuse, as well as adherence to government rules and policies.
A nonpartisan government-spending watchdog group said the bonuses showed that GSA leadership was "out of touch" with economic realities.
"Bonuses are supposed to reward superior performance. With all the scandals that have recently come to light, there are several GSA employees that should be staring down possible dismissal rather than getting a pat on the back and a fat check," said Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The bonus analysis, made available by the subcommittee, removed the identities of the GSA workers, in keeping with its policy of protecting federal employees' personal information. It also didn't provide details about the nature of the inspector general investigation that involved them.
In one case, however, a GSA supervisor who'd been reprimanded for interfering with an inspector general inquiry received more than $20,000 in bonuses during that same period.
"The notion that someone would get a bonus after he had obstructed the investigation of a government auditor," said McCaskill, a former Missouri state auditor, "that's a big problem."