Limits on Feds' Bonuses and Leave Included in Senate’s New Government Reform Package

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he has received assurances the full Senate will consider the reform package. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he has received assurances the full Senate will consider the reform package. Susan Walsh/AP

A Senate committee is planning to move a slew of government reform proposals en bloc, paving the way for limits on some federal employees’ bonuses and leave.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced at a hearing Wednesday his intention to lump together 15 bills his panel has already approved without objection into one package for the Senate to consider. Many of the proposals have been kicked around for years, including some that were approved in one chamber during a previous Congress but not the other.

Johnson’s legislation will include a measure to prohibit bonuses paid to federal employees engaged in misconduct. HSGAC approved the Stopping Wasteful Bonuses Act in June 2015, though it has yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor. The measure would ban agency heads from awarding bonuses to employees who could be fired or suspended for violating agency policy or for doing something illegal that could land them in prison for more than a year. The ban for those employees would last for five years. Agency inspectors general, senior ethics officials or the Government Accountability Office would determine whether an employee’s conduct violated agency policy.

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It also contains a reform from Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to limit administrative leave for employees under investigation to five days at a time. It would also create two new leave categories -- investigative leave and notice leave -- provided agencies meet specific criteria and are unable to use other available options. Agencies would have to comply with more stringent reporting requirements as well, including recording administrative leave separately from other forms of excused absences, and explaining to employees why they have been placed on investigative or notice leave.

The measure conflicts with a bill the House approved Tuesday, which would limit administrative leave to 14 days per employee per year, with certain exceptions. If the Senate passes its reform, the two chambers would likely resolve their differences in a conference committee.

The package includes at least one bill sponsored or cosponsored by every member of the committee, both Democrat and Republican. Other measures would empower inspectors general, target already identified areas of duplication for cuts and expand whistleblower protections for both federal employees and contractors.

Perennial pieces of legislation to require agencies to report detailed cost and performance information on programs to the Office of Management and Budget, limit improper payments to deceased individuals and defund oil paintings of federal employees were also included.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Johnson said he has received assurances from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the package will receive consideration on the Senate floor. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., did not fully commit to supporting the bundled legislation, but said he was “very much interested” in it. He noted that he wrote or co-wrote several of the measures included in the package. 

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