David Orcea/Shutterstock.com

EPA to Collect Retention Bonuses It Mistakenly Paid to Employees

Agency gave nearly $500,000 in incentive payments without properly verifying the need to do so.

The Environmental Protection Agency gave retention bonuses to employees without verifying the payments were necessary, according to an audit, and the employees may soon have to give back the awards.

The EPA paid more than $667,000 in retention bonuses to 13 employees from 2006 through 2013. For 10 of those workers, however, the EPA failed to document any recertification as required by federal statute. This failure of oversight resulted in nearly half a million dollars in uncertified incentive payments, the EPA inspector general found.

The Office of Personnel Management allows for retention bonuses of up to 25 percent of employees’ base pay -- or 50 percent if an agency receives special permission -- for any worker with “unusually high or unique qualifications” and who is “likely to leave the federal service in the absence of” an incentive payment. OPM requires the agency to annually review the need for the bonus and to document in writing its determination.

One employee, however, received retention payments for four years after being promoted. The bonus should have been cut off, the IG said, but because of a human resources glitch and the agency’s lack of internal controls the worker received nearly $105,000 in unearned payments.

EPA regulations place the burden of reporting overpayments on the employee. That worker and a second employee who received a post-promotion incentive have already received debt notices, and the auditors recommended EPA target other individuals whose payments were not certified to determine if any other debts are owed to the government.

EPA agreed to review evidence to ensure the retention payments were warranted, and to recover any bonuses given without justification. In addition to initiating collection processes for two of the overpayment cases, the agency has modified its incentive payment justification policies.

The IG’s office launched the investigation in light of the scandal involving John C. Beale, the former EPA employee who pretended to work for the CIA in order to get paid for doing nothing. Beale, who was not included in the auditors’ 13-person total, collected incentive payments for 10 years after the bonuses were authorized. 

(Image via David Orcea/Shutterstock.com)