Look for Congress this season to put a "golden handcuff" clause in the new program that permits Uncle Sam to give hotshot executives bonuses of $10,000 and $20,000 for outstanding work.
Although only one round of bonuses -- to about 250 career members of the Senior Executive Service -- has been given out, many members of Congress are already having second thoughts about the program. They are upset because two of the $20,000 winners quit shortly after they got the top awards. One Department of Transportation official resigned the week after getting his, and a winner at the Federal Communications Commission quit last week, less than six months after getting his $20,000 (minus taxes) check.
Neither official did anything wrong. They won the awards fair and square, and both are considered top-notch people, the type Uncle Sam wants and needs. aThat is the problem. Both are the sorts the government must have, and the awards -- while designed to thank them for past services -- were also designed to keep people in government.
The so-called golden handcuff concept is simple. Winners would not be allowed to take the money and run. Payments would be stretched out -- $5,000 a year for four years for the $20,000 winner, and $5,000 a year for two years for the individual who got the $10,000 bonus. Anybody leaving before his time, as Orson Welles would say, would get only part of the bonus.
When Congress was setting up the bonus system, as part of the overall civil service reform act, it originally intended to include language in the law that would stretch out the bonus payments over a period of years. But it got dropped for some reason. Somebody up there (on Capital Hill) ought to put that requirement back in the law, so that the bonus system will be subject to less criticism, and so Uncle Sam can hang on to some of the people he considers good enough to get big bucks awards.