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Bigger bonuses for departing Hill staffers

If you had money left over in your budget at the end of the year and could use it to pay a little extra to your staff who'd toiled long hours on a major recent project, would you do it?

Many people would probably say yes. And if they work in many arenas, doing so would probably be called good leadership. Rewarding the people who had worked the most hours, gotten the least amount of thanks and done all of the grunt work for middling pay--rather than the people in charge--would likely be seen as enlightened management.

But not, apparently, in government. The Wall Street Journal has a report out that examines the extra pay staffers were given as end-of-the-year "bonuses" by outgoing Congress members. One of the most-read articles on the site as of Tuesday morning, the story is drumming up debate over whether the extra cash should have been returned to the U.S. Treasury instead.

The article reports numbers from LegiStorm, which tracks Congressional salaries. It found that the 96 lawmakers who left or were defeated in the 2010 midterm elections paid their employees 31 percent more in the fourth quarter of 2010 than they did, on average, in the first three quarters of the year. Lawmakers who were returning to their jobs, meanwhile, awarded their aides just a 16 percent increase over prior quarters, almost half what the departing members paid out.

House members, the article reports, are given allowances that range between $1.4 million and $2 million a year to run their offices. Staffers' salaries, the bulk of that operating budget, average about $60,000; a maximum of $168,411 is permitted per year, or $14,034 per month. The practice of using up as much of the budget as possible, the article states, is widespread on both sides of the aisle.

The same happens in businesses and other organizations everywhere, of course. How many people haven't found themselves looking for ways to spend some part of their budget at the end of the year to ensure they're not stiffed by the bean counters in the future? It's a common practice, if not necessarily the most ideal form of leadership.

Many readers of the Journal article argue that this is taxpayer money that's being spent, and should be returned to the Treasury. "One last thumb in the eye of the taxpayer," read one of the more benign comments.

But is it really? A spokesperson for one of the congressmen, Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek, whose fourth-quarter payroll increase was among the largest, told the Journal that staffers worked "long hours for relatively modest pay compared to their private-sector counterparts. As such, our office was able to extend a modest severance." Georgia Democrat Jim Marshall sounded a similar note: "I'm glad I was able to help a little bit with these folks who were out of a job through no fault of their own."

The same people howling that this is taxpayer money that should be returned to the Treasury would probably expect a severance if they lost their jobs in the private sector. And therein lies the crux of the debate: Is it a bonus or a severance?

I can understand why some people would be upset, particularly when the payouts are repeatedly cast as bonuses, that extra cash is being doled out to Hill staffers rather than returned. Bonuses are usually designed as a retention tool for employees, helping to motivate them to work more efficiently and more wisely in the year ahead. And of course, if the extra payouts are little more than vengeful cleaning of the coffers by losing candidates, that's hardly any way to run things either. As usual, some kind of middle ground--offering a little extra money without leaving the drawer dry--is probably the best way to go.

But it's a little shortsighted to believe there shouldn't be some kind of extra payment to staffers who are suddenly out of a job because their boss didn't win. Maybe that's a risk everyone is willing to take in Washington. But companies wouldn't be able to attract the best and brightest to come work for them if they were known for kicking people out on the street without a shred of severance when the going gets rough. And leaders in Washington can't either.

By Jena McGregor

 |  March 8, 2011; 11:05 AM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

One word: Obama

Count Obama's vacations, golf, parties and basket ball fetish time spent....compare it to Presidential Leadership time spent

LESSONS FROM LIBYA for dictators in distress.
“To ensure that the president does not focus unduly on your war, schedule it while he is preoccupied with other matters: a Motown concert, a conference on bullying, his golf game, and finalizing his Final Four picks.”

Obama's government has become both a leech and a joke.
Plus this: “Consider restarting your nuclear program, since the conditions that caused you to suspend it are gone. At most, the president will form a committee of several nations to talk to you; he will consider more sanctions if the world speaks as one. You need not worry about his ‘deadlines.’”

Posted by: georgedixon1 | March 16, 2011 5:31 PM

We should get the money back. It is taxpayer money. The problem is that politicians and journalists inside the Beltway think of it as not real money, not money that I and other taxpayers work hard for, then are forced to send to DC to be wasted. I have better uses for my hard earned money.

And if there is nothing wrong with these handouts, why not just give everyone a $10 million thank you bonus? Oh, does that seem wrong all of a sudden? Who gets to pick what the cutoff should be when wasting tax dollars suddenly seems wrong? As a tax paying citizen, I say $1 of waste is too much.

Posted by: jazbond007 | March 13, 2011 3:36 AM

When I was a lower level G-7 employee, before I went to grad school at night, and then during grad school, before I left federal service, I lived for merit bonuses, because it was the only way I could continue to pay my families' bills.

That was fairly paid money, well earned. As to the low level staffers comments here, get a life. That job is solely for connections, it gives you an entre into the world of influence and money. That's enough for you to take your dreams of manuipulating the levers of power for your beach house. I could care less about the hours, try to tell that to anyone trying to break into advertising in NY, SF, or LA. Taxpayers aren't supposed to subsidize your internship, which is exactly what it is. A paid internship into how to manipulate the pubic fisc into profit for you.

Posted by: Gooddogs | March 12, 2011 11:23 PM

I was a career Federal employee, and I got bonuses almost every year, whenever there were bonuses do be given out, I was invariably among those who got the top bonuses.

I never got as much as a full week's pay as a bonus.

So, those of you who think federal employee bonuses are out of control, chew on that.

Posted by: kamdog | March 12, 2011 10:38 PM

The public is forever whipped into an ungrateful frenzy by a GOP that wants to blame shift their own failings on to the people who at best had to work with their failed ideas. The idea that somehow people who have spent in many cases years learning about things that are actually rocket science, and curing cancer, and are somehow supposed to get paid Wal-Mart wages for it, well that's silly.

Posted by: Nymous | March 12, 2011 7:40 PM

A million posters here could criticize federal bonuses, but once these are approved, nothing can or will be done about 'em.

Posted by: clitteigh | March 12, 2011 10:06 AM

A million posters here could criticize federal bonuses, but once these are approved, nothing can or will be done about 'em.

Posted by: clitteigh | March 12, 2011 10:05 AM

Good Grief...the USA is homeless, jobless, and if they aren't, REO is the shadow pending.
What about B R O K E do these idiots not understand?

The bonus check is signed U. R. Stuck, and cannot cash for anything but toilet paper value, which is driving inflation even harder.

The Government needs to get it's hands out of people's wallets and shrink to a simple business of the people's business.

Government employee now means 'wallet robber' to most people, who are hold up in cheap hotels with entire families, having lost everything at the hands of people who 'misconduct' the people's business.

Posted by: dottydo | March 12, 2011 10:03 AM

The problem is not giving a bonus in lieu of severance. The problem is forcing government workers to take a leave of absence to campaign - and not paying them their regular wage from the campaign, with the understanding that the government salary the rest of the year makes it worth their while. This just means that the Congressmen use government money for their campaigns - something that is or should be illegal.

This is an issue whether a bonus is paid or not. And it is an issue whether the Congressman won or lost the election.

Posted by: mg72 | March 12, 2011 9:45 AM

Most taxpayers are not aware that bonus payouts to federal employees can be in the area of $10 -20,000 and higher in the senior service positions.Salary increases may be frozen but big bonuses are an expected benefit for just doing your job.The reckless waste and hypocrisy of the "system" is stunning!

Posted by: bowspray | March 12, 2011 9:40 AM

I think a lot of people really find it much easier to imagine that the government is a money wasting bogey man on all levels.

I've never worked on the hill, but I have a couple friends who do. One of which has worked through multiple changes of political control of the area he works for. He is a complete professional. His attitude is that he works for the people of that area, not just the elected official.

I don't know what he makes, but he is not getting rich, and his work is not political. The money this guy gets paid is probably some of the best spent money from those peoples taxes.

I'm not saying there isn't waste in government, but I think the hill is actually one of the more accountable places from a tax payer standpoint. The big areas to look at are large and cumbersome institutions and contractors that make millions by over pricing / billing the fed.

Posted by: gconrads | March 12, 2011 9:32 AM

A government office is supposed to set a budget for the new year. A lot of offices have the potential for unseen expenses and it would be irresponsible not to figure that in. However, at the end of the year, if they haven't had the emergencies and they were to turn in the money, they would be punished in the new budget and not allowed that padding. Then, if that next year, they had the potential emergency expenditures, they run out of money before the end of the year. I think that offices that come in under budget should be rewarded, not punished the next year by having their budgets cut. Just as I think that the ridiculous charade every year of the two political parties not funding the government for the new year (which started last Oct 2010, by the way) until March due to political in-fighting, ought to be done away with.

Posted by: Georgetowner1 | March 12, 2011 6:03 AM

The Congressmen and women are very generous with other people's money. That money they hand out like jelly beans belongs to the taxpayers. They would not be so generous if it came out of their salaries.


Posted by: LETFREEDOMRING2 | March 11, 2011 1:40 PM

Hill salaries are left up to the individual office to determine. There are some offices that pay their employees the total salary that the employees who received bonuses ended up being paid. Those office that pay more are aren't getting criticism because the word "bonus" comes up far less often.

A lot of members of congress set their salaries low so that during elections they can say "look at how much money we're returning." It's not surprising that, having lost or retired, they have no qualms with paying their employees what they would've liked to pay them all along. If you want everyone to be a good steward of public dollars, you should really look deeper into individual office budgets to determine whether money is really "leftover" or not, since bonuses really don't paint a good picture of who is wasting money and who isn't.

Hill staffers aren't all greedy, terrible people who are out to waste taxpayer money. A lot of them aren't just working for a rep but for the X district of Your State, spending tons of time responding to constituents, which is a necessary function whether you agree with the rep's policies or not. There is definite waste in congressional offices, but it's not all salaries and bonuses.

Posted by: seb87 | March 11, 2011 12:59 PM

I'm of two minds about this. Yes, it's taxpayer money. But it's up to the congressperson to spend it as part of the budget for his/her office. It could be blown on so many other things, on the 'use it or lose it' theory; instead it's distributed to departing staffers. They're going to spend it out one way or the other, this just sounds like the lesser of possible evils.

Posted by: cb11 | March 11, 2011 12:26 PM

LIA11 wrote:

"There is nothing wrong with a Congressperson providing staff with a bonus as a thank you gift."

The problem with that logic is that the gift is coming from the American public, and not from the departing Member of Congress. The gift is coming from non-constituents of the Member and from people who voted the Member out of office."

If the Member wants to give out gifts, that's fine. He or she is more than able to give out gifts from his or own pocket.

Posted by: Dungarees | March 11, 2011 11:34 AM

Does anyone else see the irony in the fact that this is being pointed out by The WALL STREET Journal?

BTW, the first post by JAH3 is hysterical. I wonder how many people actually believe it!

Posted by: ludditegirl | March 11, 2011 11:27 AM

They failed, these bonuses were paid to the assistants of LOSERS.

Is this author actually suggesting that paying bonuses for FAILURE out of TAXPAYER funds is OK?

When, in actuality, it is against the law, and the monies should have been returned to the treasury?

Posted by: docwhocuts | March 11, 2011 11:02 AM

So, a defeated congressman (woman), leaves the office for the last time, and tells his staff to tidy up the place, and oh by the way, take those boxes of cash over there and distribute them amongst the staffers?!?!? Yeah - right!!
If there were such bonuses paid they are probably illegal, (just like the overseas trip with the wife, and now that the flashlight has exposed them, hopefully, they will be discontinued.
Warning - if your neighbor tells you what a big shot he is and how money he makes, you should turn off the hose and go inside! :-)
If you want to investigate wage inequities, take a gander at the Military Pay Scale. You get the overseas trip - but you can't take your wife. Unless she is in the same unit :-)

Posted by: thornegp2626 | March 11, 2011 10:48 AM

I'm not really sure what the issue is here, were they using a different "color of money" that is something designated for something else? If it's intended for salaries etc, I see no problem.

Posted by: jhtlag1 | March 11, 2011 10:44 AM

As a former Congressional staffer from the 1980's, we received no "bonuses", nor did everyone receive lucrative jobs in the private sector. Worked 80 hour weeks, 60 hours were our mellow weeks. When I went to work for the Executive Branch I was excited to receive a merit pay increase for outstanding work. I never received this on the Hill. In fact, as part of the Gramm-Rudman cuts, staff took at 3 and half week unpaid furlough. Many of us still worked during the furlough time rather than leaving our Members or Committees with no staff during this time. There is nothing wrong with a Congressperson providing staff with a bonus as a thank you gift.

Posted by: LIA11 | March 11, 2011 9:25 AM

Rather than post the percentage of an average severance, why don't you post the total amount of money? This kind of stuff is a diversion from the multi-trillion dollar problems the Nation faces and which neither party is addressing. And the media is just as culpable in all this.

Posted by: HillRat | March 11, 2011 8:24 AM

WMO21 wrote:

"Bonuses, for outgoing staffers or otherwise, are a drop in the bucket."

So is the funding for PBS and NPR but it seems that drop is more important to many Congress members than "bonuses" to staffers. And in an environment when the majority of government workers find themselves in the cross hairs of legislators it is hypocritical at best to be giving "bonuses" to their staffers.

And finally WM021 you were not forced to take a hill job that was your choice to work for 25K a wage I might add that many DC residents probably also receive. That's poor justification for your bonus.

Posted by: JDYoung | March 11, 2011 12:18 AM

yep -- idiot nancy and her crew -- last stand.

get to work -- 20% cut to federal government workforce -- now.

i'm ok if services are slower -- do not want the services......

Posted by: fngVP | March 10, 2011 4:37 PM

Further evidence of just how wasteful congress is with our money.
These moronic pigs spend our money like it grew on friggin trees.
No one single person in washington has any fiscal responsibility at all.
Each and everyone of these crooked, self serving elitist pigs needs to be voted out and replaced in 2012.
This is just one more glaring reason the united states is broke.
We have idiots like this doing these kinds of things with our money.

Posted by: JimW2 | March 10, 2011 10:53 AM

I worked on the Hill for several years after college, pulled numerous all-nighters, and lost several weekends. I was one of a handful of young staffers whose parents did not provide me with an allowance. When I left for grad school, I took debt with me.

Young staffers in particular make barely enough to live in the District. They are not on the GS scale and get paid far less. Think 25k goes far in DC? Think again. If people don't want a ruling class in Washington, they should make it affordable for all but the rich to indulge in public service.

Bonuses, for outgoing staffers or otherwise, are a drop in the bucket. If you want to be fiscally responsible, tackle Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid.

Posted by: wm021 | March 10, 2011 10:44 AM

Why not pick on the outrageous benefits given to a Congressional member while in office and when he/she leaves office?

Do away with the 75% subsidy we pay for the members' health insurance let the seniors go on Medicare and the younger ones hunt and pay for their own insurance. Do away with the over 80% pension they receive after serving only one term. Do away with the "fact-finding" (photo ops and shopping) trips on the taxpayer dime. Make them follow the same laws we, their employers, follow.

And since we are their employers, why should they, the employees, be able to vote themselves a raise every couple of years?

How many millions could we save?

Posted by: Utahreb | March 10, 2011 8:05 AM

Huh- private sector employees aren't able to convert their jobs into multi million dollar payoffs via connections they made while "toiling for the public good". They knew the salary and the hours (and sometimes romantic requirements) going in. You know the drill- work some where else if a degree in political science will qualify you.

Posted by: petekam | March 10, 2011 5:51 AM

I posted a earlier comment that seemed to have disappeared- I didn't think it was noxious or offensive- all I said was that most of us are too unfamiliar with the pay rules for "federal employees" who are staffers for the Legislative Branch -and that we would ahve been better served by this column if the authors of the column had explained more about the rules governing staff pay - I saw my comment surface briefly and then it disappeared

Posted by: 27anon72 | March 10, 2011 2:53 AM

the pay rules and terminology used in the special case of federal employees of the legislative branch of the government are so different than the better known executive branch that mosty of the comments on this question are not very relevant
the authors of this column would have better served the readers by explaining some of the differences

Posted by: 27anon72 | March 10, 2011 2:01 AM

quick reaction-
some observations-
too many of us comment on issues we know very little about-
congressional "federal employees"are a special subset of public sector employeee with different pay rules from the bulk of federal employees so most of us are simply don't have a valid basis for comparison and comment-
the "producers" of this column and this question would have served the public better by explaining the Congressional pay rules and terminology rather than asking for our input on an arcane pay system and rules-

Posted by: 27anon72 | March 10, 2011 1:34 AM

Several of you missed the point. The money used for these bonuses did not belong to the politicians who gave the money away. It was taxpayer money, given to the office for expenses in running the office. In our government what is not used at the end of the year, is returned--lost. Who gave these politicians the right to change the rules?

Posted by: drzimmern1 | March 9, 2011 9:12 PM

JAH3 - your neighbor has to be either making this up to make himself look important or he's been visiting Charlie Sheen. As for the $300 million, it may well be that is the program funding Congress appropriated for whatever program his office is administering, but in the agenicies I've worked at, those are generally the funds that are going to the entities running the program - i.e., if it is for housing assistance for very low income, then that $300 million is going out to the entities running the program and the funds are used for the housing assistance.

It's been distressing listening to all of the comments bashing Federal employees over this past year. I worked for 32 years and yes I could have gone somewhere else and made more money, but I believed in the mission of the agency that I worked for which was dealing with very low income families. I didn't feel my life was going to be better if I drove a BMW rather than a 17 year old Altima, so was willing to take the wages offered and got a lot of satisfaction in working with the program recipients. But I also didn't take a vow of poverty to work for the American people. I've also worked in the private sector and my husband worked in the private sector. In his job he was able to take me on some nice "business" trips that basicaly were subsidized by the taxpayer because it was written off as a business expense. So, there are benefits in the private sector that you don't get in the public sector, but this being a free country it's nice we all get to choose what we want to do. I chose to do what I could to make certain very low income families had a decent place to live, I had started at my career at a bank, but didn't really buy into their overall mission of just making money. So, it's going to take all of us working together to get out of the mess the country is in, but I know we can do it and will do it. And let's remember that government employees are also taxpayers, with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else. Although, I do remember sitting through a meeting with a fairly well known Senator and his staff trying to convince us that we should move more of our work from being done by a government employee, to contract work as one of his constituents wanted the business for his firm. Even though it was clear that it would cost more to contract it out, the Senator's rationalization was that it would be more beneficial because people employed by the contractors paid taxes and everyone knew Federal employees didn't have to pay taxes. All of us in the room were immediately thinking "hmmm, where do I file to get all the taxes I have paid back?". And those are the people trying to run the country.

Posted by: gonefishing1 | March 9, 2011 5:48 PM

The fundamental problem with congress and federal agencies passing out bonuses to employees is that it isn't their money. It's ours, the taxpayers.

I for one, don't beleive in government employees receiving bonuses on top of the regular and benefits.

Posted by: PracticalIndependent | March 9, 2011 1:52 PM

Interesting comments on this issue. A combination of the informed and the uninformed (stick with your music career).

I'd like to clarify some points. First, very few hill staffers leave the hill to become highly-paid lobbyists. Those that do are generally the best and brightest
who decide to work for more pay and fewer hours (sounds like the private sector). Most staffers leave because their bosses are defeated, they burn out from working crazy hours and having to deal with the uneducated American populace, or they realize the Hill is not where they want to be.

Second, very few Congressmen or Senators become rich while serving. The very large majority of those who leave office wealthy already had their money before elected, especially Senators. Our system of campaigning requires lots of money which is one of its weaknesses and favors the wealthy.

As for government workers being overpaid the statistics show that government workers with college degrees are paid less than private sector employees with college degrees and that government workers without degrees are paid more than their private sector counterparts.

As for bonuses for Hill staffers, this has been going on for a long time. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s when I worked on the Hill Republican Congressmen emptied their office accounts in December of every year with very large bonuses to their staff because there was a myth that unexpended monies went into the Democratic Speaker's mythical slush fund instead of being returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Is there a direct correlation between anger over government and lack of knowledge?

Speech is free but please don't pollute the air.

Posted by: jwnova | March 9, 2011 11:59 AM

John Shimkus (IL-19) is a Republican and firm believer in giving his top four employees bonuses. He hired them from the Index Department in former IL Gov. George Ryan's office.

When his district director (one of his “Ryan 4”) was charged with corruption, she received immunity for her testimony against former IL Gov. Ryan, a promotion, & a "business" trip to Europe to “observe Ukraine Elections".

Adding insult to injury -- The congressman requires his staff (except for the higher-echelon “Ryan 4”) to pay for his drive him around, put gas in his SUV, & pay meals when he visits his local fan base & cruises the DC area -- without receiving the allowed reimbursement. Shimkus receives a stipend for these incidentals like everyone else in Congress. It is not an easy thing to do when a staffer receives the lowest wage possible.

Posted by: alb2 | March 9, 2011 11:13 AM

KAYTHY8: More turnover on the Hill? The typical tenure for a staffer in a House personal office is a year or so. Do you remember when you started a job? How long did it take you to ramp up to maximum effectiveness? Would you have people spend 3-6 months mastering the job, work for 3-6 months, and then leave?

The right thing for tax payers would be to have staff who have a clue. Do you really want critical votes informed by someone just out of college? And don't give me this line about "more opportunities for young people". More and more it is opportunities for young people who's parents can support them while they work on the Hill.

The Hill is vastly different from the executive branch, except maybe the White House. You have no job security, low pay, long hours, and few weekends. Many executive branch jobs are downright cushy by comparison. I typically work 10-16 hour days, half of my weekends, and about 20% of Federal Holidays. Most receptions are long over before I leave my desk. Someday I hope to again earn what I was paid in the private sector. In 1999. Before getting my PhD. In a science.

I work on the Hill because I think it's important. Public service is important. 90% of people are here to sacrifice, either because they want to help the country or because they see it as necessary to advance their career.

A 2 year pay freeze for executive branch employees? Is that really so bad? Congress started off with a 5% CUT, and more will be coming.

Is severance pay for someone who loses their job through no fault of their own unreasonable? Yes, not everyone is so lucky. But, anecdotally, many private sector jobs do seem to have this benefit.

And did anyone do the math? The premium paid by outgoing Members was $2000 / staffer. A lot? Maybe. An interesting article? Probably. But it's good to keep these amounts in perspective. And of course some 20-30% of that goes right back to Treasury (and FICA) ....

Posted by: missingperson | March 9, 2011 10:35 AM

Bonus should be completely illiminated. With Government an Big Business. These Bonus that they give have Bankrupted this Country. Thats is why I don't believe the astronomicle lie that America is in debt like they say. Its really because of Greedy Sob's still want there bonus. The damn Buck has to stop somewhere! Its completely Unethical its wrong, its brazon when America is near a complete crash an Great Depression of 2011. These people should all be held accountable an give back the multi bonus over the years give all back or be thrown in jail no if ands or buts about it Americans demand it to be so!

Posted by: JWTX | March 9, 2011 10:32 AM

If those who choose to work in government want to make what they can in the private sector- let them go work in the private sector. THE difference is a bonus in the private sector is generally ( but apparently not in the banking/investment industry ) out of profits. Our government does not generate profits. And if these people are such hot shots that they would deserve such ridiculous- not-in-the- general-business-arena bonuses, then why have they not figured out how to cut the deficit and eliminate waste in government- to actually earn these outlandish amounts of cash? And the notion of use-it or lose-it in terms of budgeting- could you get more reactive, wasteful and purposeless? It is the anti-incentive to efficiency and smaller government.
But once again the politicos are going to react like the spoiled children they are sreaming, "MINE!MINE!MINE!".

Posted by: poppysue85 | March 9, 2011 10:12 AM

The sad part is that if they can give the money away, it can stay a part of their budget, and they can give it away next year as well.

Posted by: postfan1 | March 9, 2011 8:03 AM

The main reason you get elected is to be able to legally steal, reward your friends and retire to a lobby job. Staffers are usually friends or are passed around. Once someone gets into a government job they seldom leave as it is to lucrative.

Posted by: KBlit | March 9, 2011 6:57 AM

Yea, get paid a hefty bonus for watching porn on their goverment issued P.C.

Posted by: bigmac1810 | March 9, 2011 6:22 AM

Staffers are paid on the regular GS schedule? If so, they're probably half starving to death in DC. I see nothing wrong with a suitable bonus, especially to reward a job well done.

Posted by: John991 | March 9, 2011 1:52 AM

"Staffers regularly work 12-16 hour days without any extra pay."

And that proves what? Millions of people work long hours without extra pay.

Last time I checked Congressional Staffer isn't a slave position. They are free to walk if they don't like the hours or money.

I spent a year working on the Hill and had a lot of contact w/ junior and senior staffers. Most saw the position as a stepping stone to either lobbying, law, or a committee staff position.

And a lot of the "long hours" consist of schmoozing w/ other staffers and lobbyists at the countless receptions held every week.

Posted by: BEEPEE | March 9, 2011 1:00 AM

"But companies wouldn't be able to attract the best and brightest to come work for them if they were known for kicking people out on the street without a shred of severance when the going gets rough"

But we aren't talking about companies, we are talking about government.

And we aren't talking about the "going getting rough". None of these staffers are being laid off because the local textile plant shut down.

Sure, some of them work long hard hours, but, if the member they worked for didn't get re-elected, then maybe the staff didn't work long or hard enough.

Sounds like a bonus or severance for failure to me. But, maybe that shows that Congress acts more like companies than it should.

Posted by: BEEPEE | March 9, 2011 12:51 AM

Wesatch - thank you for displaying your ignorance again. Please learn how to gather facts and research a subject before you try to opine on topics. You might find that you might actually put a paragraph together that has a cohensive argument.

Hey Pgibson1 - sounds like you're sitting on your butt and cutting off circulation to your brain. Staffers regularly work 12-16 hour days without any extra pay. If you have done a little research, you would have figured that out. I guess if you are failed musician facts don't really matter.

Posted by: DCeagle11 | March 8, 2011 9:17 PM

when I leave the facility, the money generally stops, as well.

who are these people, raised on welfare for govt' employees ?

Why did I decide to go into music, when all along I could have sat on my ass and gotten some really awesome salary, and a bonus.

this is what's wrong with this place.

Posted by: pgibson1 | March 8, 2011 7:06 PM

Today's paper has an article by a fact checker. The article was about proposed budget cuts. It compared cuts proposed by the Republican leadership to those proposed by President Obama in dollar terms.

Is the Washington Post's Fact Checker the same as the FactCheck.org that is supported by the Annenberg Public Policy Center? I would like to know.

I could not find the same data content of the article in the Post Newspaper when I looked for it in factcheck.org. I like the Annenberg Public Policy Center because it is a non-political, not for profit foundation.

Posted by: ThelmaMcCoy | March 8, 2011 3:14 PM

It's not just severance pay. If you're leaving the Hill how do you keep your staff around? They're all going to flee for a new job ASAP if you lose, and then you have no one around to finish your work.

So you offer them a retention bonus to keep them around until the end, which covers the time it takes them to search for a new job after you leave.

Posted by: ah___ | March 8, 2011 3:07 PM

@ Hazmat77 | March 8, 2011 2:38 PM
"Agencies and projects should be funded on what is actually needed, not on some bloated budget that automatically increases each year - truly regardless of need. This is a gross mismanagement of the government's fiduciary duty that it owes to the taxpayers."
In some cases the reasoning is not that the budget is bloated; but take the following scenario: You requested $100 to fund your FY2010 budget. Those funds should have been given to you at the beginning of the 2010 FY. However, because Congress did not pass the budget on time (as it rarely does) you didn't receive those funds until 6 months into FY2010. You begged and borrowed other funds to keep your program alive until you received your annual budget. Now you have only 6 months to spend the funding you received. If you don't spend it all before the end of the FY; your budget will be reduced or the funds go back to the Treasury. Not because you don't need the money but purely because of the timing of the process.

I'm not saying this is a good thing - it's a horrible way to run programs. You never know when you'll get your money except that you can guarantee it won't be on time. So, you stretch your funds as much as possible and then when you do get your allocations, you rush to get your money on your contracts or agreements or buy your equipment before it expires. It's a bad system, but it is the system. It doesn't automatically mean funds are being wasted.

That being said, there certainly are bloated programs out there - no doubt. Just pointing out that it isn't always the case and it's not the ONLY reason for that rush to spend, particularly at the end of a FY.

Posted by: vickistired | March 8, 2011 3:05 PM

These are the same politicians who cry "Federal Employees are over paid" and voted for a 2-year pay freeze. Well I guess they weren't refering to their Federal co-workers (or themselves) since they then tunaround and give their Federal Employees bonuses. I wouldn't mind the bonus because I'm sure they worked hard and deserve it; but to do it while cutting all other Federal workers is so 2-faced.

Posted by: goodtoknow | March 8, 2011 2:43 PM

"Oh and spending the money you've been given - yes, most kinds of funding "expire" by a given date and you return it to the Treasury if you don't expend it on the specific program for which you requested it. So that part is probably true, but not abnormal."

Yes and it is one of the reasons why our federal budget is always running a deficit and has created a huge debt. The entire budgetary process is at fault ... Agencies and projects should be funded on what is actually needed, not on some bloated budget that automatically increases each year - truly regardless of need. This is a gross mismanagement of the government's fiduciary duty that it owes to the taxpayers.

Posted by: Hazmat77 | March 8, 2011 2:38 PM

Republican staffers? Is hypocrisy now being pushed as a family value? Forget about it. Shared sacrifice, Jena. It's the new rage, brought to us by your heroes, the Republican party. In fact, in the grand scheme, I'm sure you earn too much. Way too much.

Posted by: zorro2 | March 8, 2011 2:11 PM

Yo jfv123 these aren't government workers they are political appointees. Why do people who think they know what the problem is often don't even know what the facts are.

Staffers are a subset of the political set out here in DC. There is no reason to pay them bonuses/severance unless they were in their contracts. The reason staffers work the long hour for the "low pay" is to get the connections on their way to being either lobbyists or politicians. They hired on for the duration and if you selected a one-term wonder to hitch your wagon to, that's your problem.

Posted by: crete | March 8, 2011 1:51 PM

Cry us a river.

Yeah, a bonus for figuring out ways to hose voters with special interest legislation and licking the boots of lobbyists.

Just in time for the new job they have been working on for two years on K Street.

Who in the He__ are they kidding?

You go to D.C. to serve a politician who could not get reelected. You made the choice.

This baloney has got to stop.

Posted by: wesatch | March 8, 2011 1:47 PM

My Federal job ran out of funds and the severance pay that I got as part of my contract was enough to pay my move to my next job. That enabled me to keep paying all my bills until the new salary started.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | March 8, 2011 1:39 PM

And yet the rest of us feds get no raise/COLA for the next two years. They accept these positions knowing they could be only a few years and many use it only as a stepping stone to bigger and better things (lobbying, etc). Why reward that?

Posted by: jackdmom | March 8, 2011 1:36 PM

And people wonder why government worker has become a four letter word.

Posted by: jfv123 | March 8, 2011 1:27 PM

I wondered, "DEM4LIFE1" if my neighbor was lying or stretching the truth. Apparently, you're better connected than me. He must have been.
I'll admit I'm pretty naive. Thanks for the tip.
Posted by: JAH3 | March 8, 2011 1:15 PM
Now I'm sorry I went off on you. It's just this constant drumbeat of how good public servants have it is really unfair.

Posted by: dem4life1 | March 8, 2011 1:20 PM

I wondered, "DEM4LIFE1" if my neighbor was lying or stretching the truth. Apparently, you're better connected than me. He must have been.

I'll admit I'm pretty naive. Thanks for the tip.

Posted by: JAH3 | March 8, 2011 1:15 PM

Obviously this whole process is at the very least open to the appearance of fraud and abuse! How about requiring each state to fund and pay for all expenses of their congressional members at what ever level and rate that they choose! This might minimize the staffs, make the reps actually do some work repping while working for their nation and state, remove the appearance of fraud somewhat, and at least make the pay and staffing of Congress be a local issue that might require as much attention as glad handing corporations for bribery monies! And, the pols should be forbidden from using any so-called election donations for any staff expenses not directly and explicitly related to election work!

Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | March 8, 2011 12:58 PM

I think this country needs to get back to the idea of there being a sense of "sacrifice" in government service. People take jobs on Capitol Hill knowing full well that they have no long-term job security. That's how it should be.

We should have MORE turnover in elective offices, not less. Members of Congress should not be in Congress long enough to earn a pension -- and giving them ANY pension should be tied to a NEED factor, since most of them are wealthy individuals by the time they leave Congress.

Remember that President Harry Truman never became a rich man from serving his country? We need more statemanship like his in government today.

I think if we had much more turnover in both elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill, we would have a Congress that is much more connected to the realities of how most Americans live and work.

And there would be a greater possibility for young Americans to come to Washington to get those jobs for some experience, if turnover were higher than it is. MORE Americans should be given that experience to learn how their government works from the inside, to make them more-informed citizens.

It is wrong for "extra" money in these staff budgets to be doled out as either bonuses or severance pay. The money should be returned to the U.S. Treasury -- but I'm sure our current crop of federal legislators have no intention of doing the right thing with taxpayers' money, since they're more focused on their self-interest.

Posted by: Kathy8 | March 8, 2011 12:28 PM

JAH3: I have a hard time believe what you say, as a fairly senior government employee myself. First, the largest salary we can make is about $155K. That's a pretty darn nice salary, definitely - but compared to the top executives in the private sector it's not ginormous. But, "bonuses" generally don't exist in the federal sector but for rare exceptions. There are recruitment bonuses (wouldn't apply to your neighbor), retention bonuses (usually capped at 10% and very hard to justify - I've never actually met anyone who has received such a bonus) and cash awards (typically capped at $2,000 unless it's a very specific award that is for some pretty remarkable service and there are annual competitions for those awards; they aren't handed out willy-nilly).

The part that really sounds fishy is the travel part - that's just plain illegal - I suspect either he or you are exaggerating here if not outright making this one up.

Now, if he's a contractor as opposed to a direct hire...well, that's a bit different; bonuses are regularly given by many of the companies who provide contractors. The travel would still be pretty fishy and I can't imagine any major federal government contractor would risk losing a contract (were the gov to find out) by doing such a thing.

Oh and spending the money you've been given - yes, most kinds of funding "expire" by a given date and you return it to the Treasury if you don't expend it on the specific program for which you requested it. So that part is probably true, but not abnormal.

Posted by: vickistired | March 8, 2011 12:27 PM

So, what in your opinion is considered "a modest severance" amount?

Posted by: SeniorVet | March 8, 2011 12:26 PM

JAH3, you're FOS. You know it, we know it. Unfortunately many misguided uneducated folks will read you BS and believe it to be true.

Posted by: dem4life1 | March 8, 2011 12:19 PM

Interestingly, I talked with a neighbor this weekend who works for (a government agency). He said that he will receive a large bonus this year (on top of a very, very large salary), plus he has been told that if he wishes to, he can pick a location any where in the world that the US has a mission, and take his wife (who is not a government employee) there for an all expenses paid vacation paid for by the taxpayer. Oh, and the office unit he is involved with needs to spend $300 million or so or lose it for next year.

Posted by: JAH3 | March 8, 2011 12:04 PM

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