U.S. Senator Susan Collins has asked the General Services Administration (GSA) for details on the outrageous awards and excessive overtime and compensation given to employees in FY 11. In a letter, Senator Collins asked Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini about the cost and necessity of the one-day awards event held in November 2010 and about what appear to be over-the-top awards.
According to a preliminary review, four employees received awards of $50,000 and above. One executive received more than $70,000. More than 150 employees received awards of $10,000 or more.
Senator Collins is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and has responsibility for overseeing the efficiency and economy of operations of all branches and function of the Government.
Acting Director Tangherlini has frozen additional awards pending the results of an internal review.
Senator Collins letter to Tangherlini is below:
August 31, 2012
The Honorable Daniel M. Tangherlini
U.S. General Services Administration
One Constitution Square
1275 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20417
Dear Administrator Tangherlini:
I am writing to express my concern and request additional information on GSA employee awards and award policy. In July, I was greatly concerned to learn about a one-day awards event, which was held in November 2010 by the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS), where the Inspector General (IG) found (based on a preliminary review) that simply the event itself to recognize awardees cost $268,732. It appears that there were several questionable costs related to this conference. I understand the IG is reviewing this conference, but in the meantime please provide responses to the questions below.
1. What is the justification for paying an actor referred to as "Agent X" $1,000 to make a ten minute appearance at the FAS award event and spending $7,500 for a video shown at the event and featuring Agent X?
2. What is the justification for paying almost $30,000 for a vendor referred to as "Drum Café" to lead GSA employees in a drumming exercise - each with their own GSA-purchased drumsticks - at this award event?
More recently, I was stunned to learn about the amounts of awards and other compensation for all GSA employees in fiscal year (FY) 2011. Based on staff analysis of information provided by GSA, it appears that more than 40 percent of GSA employees received compensation of at least $100,000, and almost 70 percent received compensation of at least $75,000 (when all sources of compensation are included). I was particularly surprised to learn that four employees received awards of $50,000 or more, with one senior level FAS official receiving $79,000. Barring some extenuating circumstances, these amounts seem to defy explanation in times of tight budgets.
I have listed below more highlights of GSA award and other compensation data for FY 2011 (which was provided to the Committee) and related questions.
3. What is the basis for each GSA award over $50,000 (including the award of $79,000)?
4. More than 40 percent of GSA employees received total compensation in excess of $100,000, and 14 GSA employees received compensation exceeding $200,000, with a high of $279,352. Please explain how these compensation levels are reasonable and in the best interest of taxpayers.
5. Multiple employees received awards totaling $10,000 or more, yet the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has advised my staff that OPM did not receive any requests for or approve any individual awards for GSA for FY 2011.
a. How many individual awards over $10,000 were granted for FY 2011?
b. What are the criteria for awards over $10,000?
c. Did OPM or the White House approve these awards?
d. How many individual employees received multiple awards totaling $10,000 or more for FY 2011?
6. Several senior level officials involved in the 2010 Western Regions Conference (which prompted the April 2012 IG Report) and who were subsequently proposed for removal received significant award amounts while the IG investigation was ongoing. Please explain the basis for awards to several former Public Buildings Service (PBS) officials who served as:
a. Region 7 PBS Commissioner ($15,800);
b. Region 8 PBS Commissioner ($54,640);
c. Region 9 PBS Commissioner ($16,500); and
d. Region 10 PBS Commissioner ($17,800).
7. Please explain the basis of a $16,600 award to the PBS Deputy Commissioner.
8. Please provide GSA's award policy (prior to April 2012, if subsequently modified)
9. Please provide any GSA award policy revised since April 2012.
10. "Organizational Awards" such as those given to 3,647 employees at the November 2010 FAS ceremony only require level 3 or "satisfactory" performance rating. How many GSA employees with only a level 3 rating received awards in FY 2011?
11. 41 employees received overtime payments exceeding 50 percent of their salary in FY 2011.
a. What was the justification for approving overtime in those cases?
b. What alternatives (e.g., temporary reassignment of other employees, hiring) to overtime were considered for those cases.
c. What was GSA's overtime policy for FY 2011 and have there been any changes to that policy?
The pervasive and excessive level of awards and other compensation strongly suggests a seriously flawed award policy and/or a culture problem where awards do not necessarily recognize distinguished service on behalf of the taxpayer. This is especially damaging to GSA's credibility when GSA is charged with efficiently and effectively managing the federal government's administrative services - using fees paid by other agencies. I know that there are GSA employees who do truly distinguish themselves, and we should provide appropriate and justifiable awards, consistent with law and policy, to reward high achievers making significant contributions. However, giving awards to nearly every satisfactory performer in the organization does not encourage high achievement and may in fact have the opposite effect.
GSA's failure to be a faithful steward of taxpayer dollars continues to concern me. It is difficult to tell the American people that we must make painful cuts to services when they hear about over-the-top awards and other compensation being given to government employees. I do appreciate that you were only appointed to lead GSA in April 2012 and the fact that you have already issued a new policy on SES awards and frozen other awards pending review during the Top-to-Bottom review exercise.
Please provide responses to the questions above by September 10, 2012.
Susan M. Collins