Federal agencies rewarded substantial numbers of their senior executives with handsome pay raises and generous bonuses in fiscal 2004, data released yesterday by the Office of Personnel Management showed.

The average basic pay for executives -- career and political appointees -- rose to $152,395 at the Small Business Administration, $151,969 at the Agriculture Department, $150,829 at the Veterans Affairs Department, $149,935 at the Environmental Protection Agency, $149,060 at the Energy Department and $148,298 at OPM.

Across government, federal executives received an average raise of $5,202 in fiscal 2004, bringing the average salary to $147,131, OPM said.

In most agencies, bonuses given to career executives have risen steadily during the Bush administration, the OPM data showed. (Data on bonuses provided to political appointees were not included in the OPM report.)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for example, awarded bonuses that averaged $17,483 in 2004, compared with an average bonus of $10,781 in fiscal 2001.

OPM said 42.6 percent of NASA career executives received bonuses in 2004 but said comparisons could not be made with previous years because the 2004 data included a group previously excluded: executives who work in offices of inspectors general.

Other substantial bonuses included those at the Defense Department, $16,958, on average; Nuclear Regulatory Commission, $16,946; Department of Homeland Security, $16,424; Veterans Affairs, $16,287; Agriculture, $15,861; Treasury Department, $15,607; and OPM, $15,044.

At some of the agencies, a majority of career executives received a fiscal 2004 bonus, the data showed. About 89 percent of VA executives, 81 percent of Agriculture executives, 69 percent of OPM executives and 62 percent of NRC executives received bonuses.

The average bonus across government agencies increased from $12,883 in fiscal 2003 to $13,734 in 2004, OPM said. Almost 60 percent of career executives received bonuses.

Federal executives make up less than a half-percent of the 1.8 million civil service workforce. The OPM data showed that the vast majority -- 6,490 members -- of the Senior Executives Service received job performance ratings, which play a role in determining raises and bonuses, in 2004.

SES members typically manage the day-to-day operations of the government, provide continuity during transitions after presidential elections and often are among the leading scientific and technical experts in agencies.

Some of the higher pay raises can be attributed to changes in the SES pay system that took effect in 2004. Agencies that have switched to more rigorous job rating systems for their executives may pay salaries as high as $162,100.

The new pay rules require agencies to make "meaningful distinctions based on relative performance," and the OPM data showed that the percentage of career SES members receiving the highest job rating had declined to 59.4 percent in 2004 from 74.5 percent in fiscal 2003.

In a news release, OPM said the data showed "a solid start on pay for performance in the executive corps" and said the Bush administration "wants to create a performance culture that motivates employees government-wide."

Staffing Up on the Borders

Looks like the Department of Homeland Security will keep getting bigger.

The fiscal 2006 appropriations bill signed by President Bush yesterday calls for the hiring of 1,000 Border Patrol agents, 100 immigration enforcement agents and 250 criminal investigators.

In a report accompanying the bill, Congress asked the Secret Service to submit "a workload rebalancing report" by Feb. 10. Congress cited an "unacceptably high workload" at the Secret Service, noting that special agents are working an average of 80 hours of overtime each month.

The legislation maintains a cap on staffing at the Transportation Security Administration. Congress expects TSA to have no more than 45,000 full-time screeners on the payroll.

Diary Live Today

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E-mail: barrs@washpost.com