Inspector general says TSA doled out unequal awards to employees

Agency administrator says parts of report are “inaccurate and misleading” and insists changes are being made.

The Transportation Security Administration held an "unnecessarily expensive" awards program in 2003 and has "a substantial inequity" within its performance recognition program between managers and employees, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general said in a report released Wednesday.

TSA spent about $460,000 to host its first annual awards program in Washington last November, Inspector General Clark Kent Irvin said in the report. The agency distributed about $1.5 million in individual cash awards to 88 executives during 2003, making its average award more than any other agency's average award to executives, according to the report.

Overall, the report concluded that TSA's awards ceremony and executive performance awards complied with federal laws and regulations. The report said, however, that the cost for the awards program "proved to be excessive." Additionally, TSA used identical, boilerplate language to justify awards for its executives, but did not give equal awards to nonexecutive employees.

"We are recommending that TSA solicit competitive bids for all services and products associated with its annual awards ceremony; ensure that each executive performance award is supported by a justification specific to the employee and with attendant additional detail to support awards in exceptional amounts; and provide more equitable treatment for lower-graded employees when making performance award decisions," the report said.

Irvin said his office learned of concerns about the awards program from a February 2004 article in Congressional Quarterly.

TSA Administrator David Stone criticized parts of the report. He said the costs for the awards ceremony "were neither extraordinary nor incurred without careful consideration of the amount, the reasonableness of the cost and value the activities would have to the employees."

Stone said the report failed to acknowledge that TSA had to incur the full costs of the awards ceremony because the Homeland Security Department did not host an awards event. Stone added that "TSA did compete a substantial portion of the program's procurement dollars."

According to the IG report, TSA failed to solicit competitive bids when selecting a site for the awards program, and did not compare the total costs associated with different site selections or ceremony configurations. Although not required, Irvin said it would have been good business practice for TSA to get competitive bids from other potential venues.

"By not announcing the procurement, TSA could not be assured that it received the best value possible," the report stated. "While the costs of transporting and housing recipients for an awards event, the allied costs for plaques, photographs of the ceremony, and a reception are elements commonly incurred in an agency award program and allowed by applicable regulation, in our view TSA's choices proved to be excessive."

With regard to bonuses, Stone said TSA conducted its program within all established parameters for similar programs in other federal agencies. He noted that the bonuses were for a two-year period, as opposed to a more common one-year cycle generally used in other agencies. He said it is "inaccurate and misleading" to compare awards granted by TSA, which is an agency, to awards granted by much-larger Cabinet-level departments.

On the subject of distribution of performance awards, the report said: "TSA was not able to provide reliable or comprehensive data for its monetary awards and performance recognition program for employees in lower, nonexecutive grades. However, the data TSA did provide, though incomplete, suggests that a substantial inequity exists in its performance recognition program between executive and nonexecutive employees."

In response, Stone wrote: "While we await the final DHS-wide performance management system, we are working to ensure that this upcoming performance award cycle has the appropriate systems, processes and reviews in place to provide equitable treatment for all TSA employees."