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Who Wants a $10,000 Bonus?

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle lately have been targeting federal employees' bonuses. But a new bipartisan bill actually wants to give feds more money as a reward for cutting costs.

The 2015 Bonuses for Cost-Cutters Act, sponsored by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mark Warner, D-Va., would allow an agency inspector general to pay an award of up to $10,000 to a federal employee who identifies waste.

“This bipartisan proposal encourages federal agencies to return unused funds instead of rushing to spend-down their appropriations at the end of every fiscal year,” Warner said. “When we empower federal employees to identify surplus funds instead of encouraging the ‘use it or lose it’ mentality, we are better stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Paul said federal workers “have a perverse incentive to spend all of their agency’s annual budget before the end of the year, and subsequently, bonuses will reverse the incentive to the benefit of the employee and the taxpayer.” Three other Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill: Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

From bonuses to overtime pay, President Obama on Tuesday signed into law a bill clarifying that border patrol agents should continue to receive overtime pay until a new compensation system goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. H.R. 2252, which the Senate passed on Tuesday, clears up some confusion over implementing the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act. The law was set up to curb abuses of administratively uncontrollable overtime, which is meant to be used when unforeseen events force agents to stay past the end of their regular shift.

However, an agency decision in April would have forced agents to pay back overtime they had earned since the bill was signed into law, and would have deprived them of overtime pay starting on April 19, even though the new compensation system doesn’t kick in until 2016. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said that Customs and Border Protection officials “fundamentally misunderstood the intent of the new law,” so H.R. 2252 was approved to clarify the dates of implementation.

“Without congressional action, agents faced pay cuts of $300 to $1,000 a pay period due to the Department of Homeland Security’s procrastination in fully implementing Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act,” said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

Judd said the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act was never intended for “piecemeal implementation.”

The 2014 law seeks simplify border agents’ pay system. It will allow Border Patrol agents to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week pay period. Those who choose the 100-hour option will be paid 1.25 times their normal base pay, but would not receive any extra compensation for their overtime hours. Employees opting to work 90 hours per pay period will earn 1.125 times their normal base pay, while those who work 80 hours will simply earn their normal base pay as determined by their General Schedule rank.

Employees who work more than their agreed upon schedule -- which Border Patrol managers and advocates have said occurs regularly and allows agents to remain in pursuit of criminals when their shift ends -- will be rewarded through compensatory time off.

Perhaps that overtime pay border patrol agents earn will make its way into their TSP accounts. The board that manages federal workers' retirement assets is considering offering more advice and education to Thrift Savings Plan participants. The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board wants to boost its customer service without increasing costs to participants, and is looking for ways to do more outreach, including periodic phone calls and emails directly offering help.

Fifty-five percent of people who leave federal service also leave the TSP because they want more flexibility on withdrawals and investment options, according to the board.

(Image via  / Shutterstock.com)

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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