Two federal officials, each making more than $50,000 a year and one the recent winner of a $20,000 bonus, are quitting this week. The primary reason in both cases is money.
Philip L. Verveer, who got a $20,000 award from President Carter five months ago, will leave the Federal Communications Commission tomorrow. The 36-year-old lawyer heads the common carrier branch. He will join the firm of Pierson, Ball and Dowd, which specializes in communications law.
John A. Penello has been in government 43 years, the last nine as a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He has submitted his resignation and sent a long letter to President-elect Reagan, saying why he is stepping down seven months before the term expires. He will be better off financially as a retiree than if he keeps working, he says.
Verveer's departure is a jolt to FCC officials. He was one of 255 members of the government's elite Senior Executive Service who got special awards (worth from $10,000 to $20,000) last summer in a special ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Another $20,000 winner, a top career official with the Department of Transportation, resigned less than a week afer getting his award, which was made possible by President Carter's civil service reform act.
Verveer said yesterday that finances are "certainly a factor" in his decision to leave government. He said he had made his decision to quit last August and informed his superiors at the FCC. The next day he learned that he was one of the top award winners and he agreed to stay on temporarily. But he said "my ability to care for my family in the way I feel obligated to was in doubt" because of congressional and presidential actions that have frozen top executive federal pay.
In his letter to the president-elect, Penello, the NLRB official, said he was writing so "the reasons for my resignation will be clear, and so you may be personally aware of the important need for timely appointment of my successor.
"As you know," he wrote Reagan, "executive level salaries have been essentially frozen for active government officials, while retired government officials have been receiving full cost-of-living increases twice a year. I have already stayed on active service more than a year beyond the point at which retirement would have been most financially advantageous to me, and I have sacrificed several cost-of-living increases as a result. . ."
Penello, a Democrat, said he is "confident that my successor will have the same approach to labor-management relations" that he tried to bring as an NLRB member, and therefore he plans to retire by Jan. 16 to qualify for a portion of the 7.7 percent cost-of-living raise that went into effect for retirees last Sept. 1. That look-back benefit will not be available to any individual who retires after Jan. 18.
President Carter has recommended substantial pay raises -- totalling just over 22 percent -- for members of Congress, federal judges and top political appointees in his forthcoming budget proposal. Reagan administration officials are quietly anxious to get higher pay for their people, but they can be expected to support scaled-down increases for political reasons. Congress will have to approve the raises, whatever their amount.
Federal pay is a touchy issue and one that cannot be decided outside of the political arena. Most Americans would find it hard to sympathize with anybody who says he can't make it on $50,000 a year. But on the other hand, we demand that our government officials be clean as a whistle, trusty, brave, loyal and competent. In today's market that sort of thing costs money. How much is debatable.
The resignation of two of the 49 winners of the recent $20,000 bonuses is certain to raise questions in Congress. The questions need to be asked. And answered. Obviously the bonus system needs a little work.
The law says that bonuses are for services rendered. Period. They are not for what the executive might do in the future, nor do they require any period of service after an executive has received a bonus. Maybe they should. p