GSA Mishandled Executive Bonuses, Watchdog Says

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The General Services Administration circumvented processes required by law in giving out executive bonuses under a since-discontinued awards program, the GSA inspector general reported.

In a report to acting GSA chief Dan Tangherlini, IG Brian Miller said the agency “employed practices that lack transparency and accountability,” creating “a system that denies due process, fails to ensure the agency head receives the benefit of informed [Performance Review Board] recommendations, made reviews of the validity of individual awards impossible, and impeded review of the overall program.”

From fiscal 2009 through 2011, GSA gave out awards totaling $160,700, 24 of which were based on nonperformance awards while 71 executives received 702 awards based on performance, some of them duplicative. The agency was led by Martha Johnson during most of that time.

The IG concluded that the system GSA used -- part of the Peer-2-Peer awards program -- failed to allow for proper high-level review, failed to provide the executives with a timely performance measure plan, failed to keep the Office of Personnel Management and Congress informed, and failed to keep proper records of the awards.

As a remedy, the IG recommended that GSA review the policy and notify OPM of the results. It recommended establishing compliance standards and training programs for the GSA performance review board, improve record-keeping and create a clear and consistent policy for Senior Executive Service nonperformance awards.

Responding to a draft of the May 16 report, Anthony Costa, chief people officer at GSA, said the agency accepts the “insightful” report and will “redouble its ongoing efforts to reform its Senior Executive Service and agencywide performance management systems.”

Costa added, however, that GSA disagrees with the report’s characterization of how GSA structured the awards. “The criteria for the peer awards were limited to the demonstration of specific leadership qualities and were not based on senior executive performance plans or annual appraisals of performance.”

GSA spokesman Dan Cruz in an emailed statement said the agency has been making progress on the issue of bonuses. “Last year as part of a review of all agency operations, acting Administrator Tangherlini cut executive bonuses by 85 percent.," he said.  "Additionally, the entire performance awards system has been reviewed, and the new leadership at GSA has worked to reform the system. As a result, GSA no longer has Peer-2-Peer awards. Under this administration, GSA bonuses are coming down to their lowest levels in five years." 

This story was updated with additional comment.

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