Uncle Sam, whose inventory includes shelves of $7,600 coffee pots, $9,600 Allen wrenches and $640 toilet seats, apparently has valued its recognized whistle blowers in recent years at about $1,000 apiece.
Since Congress created a program in 1981 specifically to reward whistle blowers, five federal agencies have handed out $11,800 to 12 civil servants.
The program, in limbo since its authorization lapsed Sept. 30, received a boost last week when the House voted, 413 to 1, to reauthorize it for three years.
The legislation, again sponsored by Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), would also expand the program to cover approximately 2 million servicemen. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The lone "nay" vote came from freshman Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.), whose administrative assistant, Dennis Calabrese, described the bonus program as "a bribe for bureaucrats to do what their job is anyway."
Rather than "strike at bureaucratic reform," Calabrese said, the measure allows members of Congress "to pat themselves on the back for helping cut waste."
The measure does not appropriate any money for the awards, however. Funds are supposed to come out of each agency's budget.
The whistle-blower program is the fourth and smallest government-wide effort to give cash awards to meritorious civil servants. Two of the others, for members of the Senior Executive Service and for managers at the GS-13 to GS-15 level, give bonuses for generally outstanding job performance.
In addition, under the 30-year-old Federal Incentive Awards Program, federal managers in fiscal 1983 gave $168 million in cash awards (the maximum individual award is $35,000) to employes who, according to an Office of Personnel Management brochure, saved Uncle Sam more than $1.3 billion. More than 373,000 employes received these awards, some of which were honorary and carried no cash bonus.
At a hearing last August, Schroeder said whistle blowers "don't get the reward . . . . The good-guy bonuses are something that never seem to materialize."
Not quite never.
The program authorized inspectors general to award up to $10,000 to each employe "disclosing waste, fraud, mismanagement in the government, which disclosure results in cost savings to the taxpayers." The president was authorized to award up to $20,000.
The program produced its first payment ($3,000 to a Veterans Administration employe) in 1982.
Between then and last fall awards have been given out by the VA (another $4,000, for a total of $7,000), Defense Department ($2,700) and the departments of Labor ($1,100) and Interior ($1,000), according to testimony submitted to Schroeder's Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee on civil service. No presidential awards have been made.
The list of award recipients does not include the names of some of the government's best-known "whistle blowers."
For instance, Defense Contract Audit Agency auditor George R. Spanton (who questioned $1 million in entertainment expenses charged by a defense contractor who was entertaining DOD officials) and Bureau of Indian Affairs official Clifford A. McKenzie (who waged a 30-month battle to regain his GS-12 job after accusing his boss and co-workers of misusing travel funds) charged that their government employment was adversely affected afer they raised questions. They ended up pursuing legal action through federal courts or the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Apparently none of those who received whistle-blower awards found themselves in such adversarial situations.
They ranged from an unnamed VA nurse, who went undercover overseas to obtain information on a medical diploma mill, to Harriet Weisman, another VA nurse, in Brecksville, Ohio, who was awarded $3,000 for reporting to the inspector general a suggestion for cutting costs on the "Home Oxygen" outpatient program after VA headquarters disapproved the suggestion.
The VA also awarded $500 each to Ralph Felicetty and Clayton Teem of its Anchorage office for catching a beneficiary who fraudulently tried to raise his entitlement by more than $100,000 over his lifetime.
The Interior Department also gave out a $500 award "for a suggestion that a reference to the law . . . involving penalties for filing false claims be added to all Interior claim forms," and another $500 for a suggestion that led to a personnel reduction and an estimated $22,000 savings in "a small field office."
Asked if such activity constituted "whistle blowing," the VA's deputy inspector general, Renald Morani, said, "I think the spirit of the act was the involvement of people, a direct effect, and direct savings attributable to it . . . . It's hard to define whistle blowing as such because it takes so many different forms. But when you see it, you know it."