Federal belt-tightening appears to have started in 2010 when agencies reduced the number of year-end bonuses awarded to the nation’s most senior federal employees, according to new government data.
Members of the Senior Executive Service earning year-end bonuses dropped by almost 4 percent in fiscal 2010 and the size of actual awards dropped by about 12 percent, according to an Office of Personnel Management report released Monday.
Just 74.7 percent of SES members earned bonuses in fiscal 2010, down from from 78.5 percent in fiscal 2009.
“As a result of reduced budgets and fiscal challenges, agencies have become more selective in determining the number and amount of SES performance awards they grant,” OPM wrote in its report.
The report’s findings show that the percentage of top workers receiving bonuses fell back to the level of several years ago after climbing at the start of the Obama administration.
There are about 7,900 members of the SES, who are the most high-ranking civilian career federal employees earning top six-figure salaries. About 4 percent of the SES members are political appointees, according to OPM.
Average bonuses for top-performing SES members in fiscal 2010 was $13,391 for workers on OPM’s H Pattern pay-for-performance system and $14,074 for workers graded on the F Pattern system.
Fewer SES members also earned top scores, according to the report. The total percentage of SES members rated at the highest level dropped by 2.6 percent from 2009, suggesting that “agencies have more rigorously appraised executive performance and have made better distinctions in executive performance,” OPM said.
This is the first decline in the percentage of top-ranked workers since 2006, when the Bush administration ordered stricter evaluation of workers, but the number of workers rated at the top are still higher today than in 2006.
Average salaries for SES members did not change in fiscal 2010, the year before President Obama ordered a two-year pay freeze for all career federal workers. Current negotiations on Capitol Hill over a payroll tax extension include some Republican proposals that would extend the pay freeze for at least another year to offset the cost of the tax cuts.
Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, which represents SES members, said she was surprised that federal agencies began cutting back on bonuses in fiscal 2010 ahead the more severe cuts in fiscal 2011.
In an e-mail, she also said she was "incredulous" that there were no pay increases for career SES members. "The pay freeze does permit increases for those SES who are promoted to positions of increased responsibility," she said. "It’s virtually impossible to believe that none were."
Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.
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