Energy Department to lift moratorium on bonuses

Energy Department employees are now in line to receive performance-based awards and discretionary pay adjustments delayed in November because of uncertainty about the agency's budget situation.

Energy officials announced to employees last week that they planned to lift the departmentwide hold on awards and other discretionary pay actions. This was possible, officials said, because the continuing resolution approved by President Bush on Feb. 15 funds domestic agencies through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, clearing up Energy's financial situation.

The bonuses now will take effect on March 4, with a pay date of March 29, according to a separate memorandum by Jeff Pon, the agency's chief human capital officer, and Michael Kane, associate administrator for management and administration at the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within Energy.

Energy Department bonuses require approval from managers and vary by office and rank. The typical annual bonus for rank-and-file workers is $1,000 to $4,000. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a message to employees last week that managers will make their decisions on bonuses just as they have in previous years, and those decisions will depend on the budgetary situation in individual offices.

Energy officials announced the deferral of bonuses in mid-November, stating they would postpone the awards until they had a grasp of the funding they would receive for fiscal 2007. The budget squeeze can be traced back to Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, when Congress failed to pass 10 out of 12 appropriations bills. Consequently, lawmakers were forced to pass a series of continuing resolutions, culminating in the Feb. 15 measure to take agencies through the rest of the year.

According to a November memo by Pon, Energy put a hold on the bonuses in order to prevent layoffs and avoid placing employees on unpaid leave until Congress finished the department's 2007 budget.

The National Treasury Employees Union had filed two grievances on the matter, demanding that the agency award the bonuses immediately. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said the delay violated the union's contract, which called for the payment of performance-based awards by Jan. 31, 2007.

But Kelley welcomed Energy's decision to move ahead, even though employees will receive their money nearly two months late. She said NTEU plans to pursue discussions with the agency about interest payments on the delayed awards and about making quality step increases in pay retroactive. Though the latest spending measure means the department will finish out this year with funding similar to that of fiscal 2006, Bodman said the department is still in a solid position to achieve its goals. "I am confident that we will be able to deliver on our commitment to strengthen America's energy security, provide for our nation's defense and manage the legacy of the department's activities from the Cold War," he said.

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