Six of the 10 General Services Administration employes selected by GSA Administrator Rowland G. Freeman III for bonuses are politically connected to President Carter and other prominent Democratic politicians or came to GSA from naval procurement agencies, where Freeman once worked.
One of the employes, Lawrence F. Bretta, is a friend of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). Another, Wesley L. Johnson, was appointed administrator of Georgia's GSA by Carter when he was governor of the state. A third, Walter V. Kallaur, was administrator of the Carter-Mondale transition office.
The common thread of political or professional ties in many of the selections at the federal housekeeping agency does not necessarily mean the recognition was undeserved.Kallaur, for example, is highly regarded as an effective administrator of GSA's Washington Regional Office, which spends the largest chunk of the agency's money. Hubert W. McCarthy, who has a Navy procurement background, set up GSA's controversial program for cutting down on requests by other agencies for furniture they may not need.
McCarthy, for one, says he did not even know GSA Administrator Freeman until he was hired by GSA last January. He is now principal deputy commissioner over the agency's federal supply service, which buys office supplies and equipment and runs the government's fleet of cars. What's more, several former Navy men brought over to GSA by Freeman have not received bonuses.
Nevertheless, the common backgrounds have generated a degree of cynicism among the GSA managers about this year's winners -- among the first performance bonuses awarded under the new civil service reforms. "For the most part, the bonuses went to people who are tied in politically," says a GSA career employe who did not receive a bonus. "It's almost like a return to the patronage system." But another GSA official, who also did not receive a bonus, said, "For the most part, they're highly competent people who work hard. I don't have any problem with the selections."
GSA, which provides government workers with office space and supplies, is one of the first agencies to announce its choice of recipients of bonus awards. oThe awards are part of an attempt to provide top federal executives with monetary incentives for doing a good job. Although the bonuses may range up to $20,000 per person, Freeman limited them to no more than $5,000.
Bretta, who received a $3,500 bonus, is Gsa's regional administrator in Boston. He is a former mayor Somerville, Mass., where Speaker O'Neill grew up. He took a leave of absence from GSA for more than three years after he was indicted in 1971 on charges of conspiring to avoid bidding laws while he was mayor.The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.
Bretta describes himself as a friend of O'Neil. But he said recently he presumes he received the bonus because he fullfilled all the goals he said he would achieve.
Johnson, who served with Carter when he was governor of Georgia, said GSA's Atlana region, which he heads, provided shelter, transportation, and food for the Cuban refugees who flooded southern Florida earlier this year.
"I think I earned it [a $5,000 bonus]," Johnson said. Several of the bonus recipients had trouble remembering what their achievements were. Peter T. Glading, a career employe who is assistant commissioner for the office of motor equipment, said he would have to check the written list of objectives he had promised to attain before he could cite what he had done to earn his $3,500 bonus. "I'd have to look at my contract [agreement to achieve certain objectives]," Hazen D. Harvell, who heads GSA's Kansas City region, said when asked what achievements might have brought him his $5,000 bonus. Harvell is a career employe with no political ties.
Two of the recipients -- Ray Kline and Lawrence S. Cohan -- did not return a reporter's telephone calls made to ask why they felt they received bonuses. Kline, who received a $5,000 bonus, is Administrator Freeman's deputy. Cohan, who also received $5,000, was in naval procurement before he was hired by Freeman as deputy assistant administrator for management, policy and budget.
Freeman said recently that political considerations and cronysim played no role in the selections. "They [the bonuses] were given for outstanding performance," he said.
He said Deputy Administrator Kline set up procedures for reviewng the performance of managers at GSA and recommended cancellation of a costly program for buying coordinated office furniture.
"My deputy came here when the agency was quite troubled. He acted as my alter ego," Freeman, a former Navy admiral, said. Regional Administrator Harvell in Kansas City worked to reduce energy consumption by establishing driver training programs and fine-tuning GSA cars with diagnostic tests, Freeman said. Harvell also encouraged minority-owned firms to deal with GSA, Freeman said.
A toital of 10 GSA employes received bonuses. One who did not -- even though he was judged by his boss to have achieved all his objectives for the year -- is Howard R. Davia. As chief of GSA's office of audits, Davia was responsibile for uncovering many of the examples of waste and abuse that came to be known as the GSA corruption scandal. This year, Davia's boss, GSA Inspector General Kurt W. Muellenberg, rated him "highly effective" in performing his job.
In congressional testimony earlier this year, Davia said he did not believe auditors should be included in the bonus program because the proffer of such an award might lead auditors to temper their criticism.
"Recently, I was asked [by GSA Inspector General Muellenberg] if I still supported the view on auditor bonuses included in my testimony," Davia said in a letter last month to his senator, Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.). "I said I did. He [Muellenberg] said that, in that case, I would not get a bonus."
In his letter, Davia said he would be willing to forgo a bonus if all auditors were exempted from the program. "I submit that because of my testimony I was harmed, and I am outraged," Davia wrote.
Muellenberg acknowledged discussing with Davia the possibility of a bonus and asking him if he still believed in his testimony. But he said Davia's response did not prompt him to deny him a bonus.
"After careful deliberation, I decided not to recommend anyone for a bonus in this period," Muellenberg said.