- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

This article incorrectly calculated the average amount of bonuses paid to D.C. employees. The average of the 2,404 bonuses handed out from 2001 to 2003 was $1,663. Fifty-eight of those 2,404 bonuses were for “executive service performance,” with an average payout of $6,246. The article also incorrectly reported the salary of Mary Leary, director of Labor Relations. She is paid $139,947 per year.

Hundreds of D.C. government executives received cash awards totaling more than $740,000 in taxpayer dollars this summer at the same time that D.C. officials renewed calls for more federal funding and a tax on commuters to cover looming budget deficits.

Records obtained by The Washington Times under the Freedom of Information Act show that the District has paid more than $3.9 million in bonuses to employees since 2001. The payments average more than $3,000 each, but high-paid political appointees, senior managers and department heads typically were given three times as much, according to an analysis of the payments.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey, for instance, whose salary is $175,000 per year, has received two bonuses since 2001 totaling $21,000. Chief Ramsey, who has not received a bonus in 2003, signed a five-year contract extension in May that included a $25,000-a-year raise.

The practice of handing out large bonuses to city executives does not exist in comparably sized Baltimore or in any of the top five most populated U.S. cities except Philadelphia, which caps its incentive payments at $2,000 for suggestions that result in savings.

“No, we don’t do that here,” said Cynthia Sax, administrative manager for the Houston Department of Personnel. “We can’t give out tax dollars as gifts.”

D.C. officials, citing budget shortfalls, froze the incentive awards program from September 2002 to July 2003. Since the program’s reinstatement, more than 400 D.C. employees, including several agency directors, have been given thousands of dollars each.

D.C. employees can receive cash awards for “a suggestion, an invention, a superior accomplishment, length of service or other meritorious effort,” according to the District’s personnel manual. Of the District’s 32,000 employees, about 4 percent receive cash awards in addition to their salary each year.

D.C. officials defend the program as a progressive way to keep employees motivated, and they cite the examples of merit-based incentive awards in private industry and the federal government.

“We’re trying to make the District a better place to work for the employees,” said Randi Blank, spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of Personnel. “This is about rewarding employees and managers who meet their goals.”

D.C. officials say the program helps to keep good employees from leaving their jobs for more lucrative offers in the federal government or private industry. They also say the program should be viewed in light of the fact that nonunion employees’ salaries have been frozen for more than two years.

“If you have good employees, then you want to be able to keep them,” Miss Blank said. “If people are going high above the call, then we should reward them.”

Records on bonus payments in D.C. government prior to 2001 are incomplete, city officials said. Agency directors distributed the cash awards with little oversight, and no central database tracked the payments.

The Office of Personnel’s performance management program created a database to track the payments in 2001, Miss Blank said. Last year, Mayor Anthony A. Williams, City Administrator John Koskinen and D.C.’s deputy mayors named 10 employees to the D.C. Incentive Awards Committee, which reviews awards more than $2,000.

The members include Linda Argo, chief of staff in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer; Cheryl Edwards, chief of staff for the Commission on Mental Health; Jo Ellen Gray, associate director of the city Office of Personnel; Leslie Hotaling, director of the Department of Public Works; William Howland, chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Operations; Nola Joyce, senior executive director of the Metropolitan Police Department; David King, chief of staff of the Office of Planning; ElChino Martin, chief of staff of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; James Miller, acting services chief, Fire and Emergency Management Services; and Stacy Rodgers, deputy director for programs, Department of Human Services.

Typically, agency directors recommend whether an employee should receive a bonus, city officials said. The taxpayer dollars used to pay for the cash awards come from leftover funds in an agency’s budget.

There are limits on how much an employee can receive. According to D.C. personnel policy, cash awards cannot exceed $5,000 or 10 percent of an employee’s annual salary. Any government employee can receive cash rewards — except the mayor, council members, members of certain boards and commissions, and courts and school employees.

Chief Ramsey is one of only four individuals in the 3,200-member police department to receive a cash bonus since 2001.

Miss Joyce, senior executive director for the police department, who also sits on the newly created incentive awards committee, received a $9,383 bonus in 2002. Her salary is $128,619 per year. Eric Coard, also a senior executive director, received a $9,987 bonus on top of his $128,619 salary.

Former Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer received two bonuses totaling $25,000 prior to being named Capitol police chief in May 2002.

The cash awards program in federal government came under congressional scrutiny in 2001, when a General Accounting Office found that political appointees were receiving bonuses on average far higher than awards to regular workers. Regular federal employees received bonuses averaging $748 each, but political appointees received annual awards worth $2,373, the GAO found.

Federal guidelines recommend that agencies refrain from giving cash awards to high-paid political appointees, according to the GAO report.

No such policy exists in D.C. government. Hundreds of D.C. executives have received cash awards of more than $4,000 each since 2001. Dozens of senior administration officials received payments twice or three times as much.

Ivan Walks, former Health Department director, for example, received $19,800 in 2001 and $13,800 last year before he resigned.

The largest payment so far in 2003 went to Mary Leary, director of Labor Relations, who received a $6,997 bonus. Miss Leary gets paid $150,000 per year.

David Clark, director of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, received $6,620 in bonus money. Mr. Clark’s salary is $132,395 per year.

Odie Washington, director of the Department of Corrections, whose salary is $130,000 per year, received a bonus worth $6,500. Mr. Washington also received a $13,000 bonus in 2002.

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