The single most honored civil servant in America over the last four years is a man with a distinguished military record, an impressive academic resume, service in the Defense, Interior and Transportation departments and the White House and experience in the government's judicial branch, a congressional study of bonuses shows.
Although he has spent most of his career in Washington, his name has almost never made the news, except in a list of small print when he won an award.
He is Raymond A. Karam, a classic civil servant who worked, anonymously, as the deputy assistant secretary for budget and programs, office of the secretary, Department of Transportation, and won $62,939 in performance and distinguished-rank awards.
Karam was awarded more money in a four-year period than any of the 6,112 other members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), according to the study by Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), chairman of the House civil service subcommittee.
From 1983 through 1986, Karam was one of 22 top government executives who won more than $50,000 in awards. The government has paid out $49,050,880 in awards for excellent performance since 1983, the study found. This is about 3 percent of the career SES payroll, the statutory limit for awards per agency.
The average size of an award declined from $7,131 in 1983 to $5,758 in 1986 as the number of awards increased.
"Congress voted to create an awards program for senior executives to motivate them to provide better service to the taxpayer," Schroeder said. ". . . What I hear from the bureaucracy is that SES bonuses have made a difference. That's why I am concerned about how small the average awards are, especially at small agencies, and about the possibility that these awards are being spread out as pay supplements."
Approximately two-thirds of all career executives won awards during the period, with each winner receiving an average of 1.5 awards.
"Given that outstanding performers tend to remain outstanding, this suggests that agencies have a tendency to spread out awards . . . to a broad group of senior executives, rather than basing the awards solely on performance," the study said.
Still, 349 individuals won four or more awards during the four-year period, for award totals of $12,390 to $62,939.
Karam transferred three months ago from the Transportation Department, where he won his awards, to become the assistant director for administration of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
"Six years is enough," he said. "I'd been through five cycles of the budget, and I applied for this job because I thought it would be interesting to work in the judicial branch."
In his modest six-sentence letter of resignation, he thanked his staff "for your loyalty and support: for having tolerated and educated me."
In the tradition of the consummate bureaucrat, he maintained an invisible public profile while making himself internally indispensable. James H. Burnley IV, deputy secretary of transportation, said he noticed Karam within weeks of arriving at the department in 1983. "He was very thorough, would give you the benefit of his experience, and was very candid in giving advice."
Karam served in the infantry at 18, then graduated from West Point. An Air Force pilot for 20 years, he earned a graduate degree from Harvard. He taught political science at the Air Force Academy, and flew in Vietnam. He testified before Congress on behalf of the Air Force, and served in the White House Office of Emergency Preparedness.
He spent five years at the Interior Department, working in the field of offshore oil and gas, earned a law degree and was admitted to the Virginia bar. He is a connoisseur of American primitive art.
"You want to hear my favorite saying?" he said: "Government service is both ennobling and noble. It greatly benefits the individual and is socially useful work."