The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave a new employee $9,000 in bonuses after less than three months on the job.
The agency’s inspector general called the payments "unprecedented" in a new audit, and raised questions about how the EPA’s chief financial officer uses its power to award bonuses.
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The EPA intended to give the employee, a director at the Research Triangle Park Finance Center in North Carolina, a third bonus but decided against it after the inspector general began their investigation.
The investigation began after a complaint that the newly hired director was going to be paid $250,000 because they moved for the job. The relocation bonus was not paid, though one manager was "disappointed" the EPA did not spend a quarter of a million dollars to hire the employee.
"However, the Director did receive two individual cash awards of $4,500 each within [three] months of her start date," the inspector general said.
"[The EPA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer] OCFO’s unprecedented award of $9,000 in bonuses to a director less than [three] months after being hired raises questions about the reasonableness of the awards and how the OCFO uses the awards process," they said.
The investigation found that the director was given the first bonus worth $4,500 in May, within six weeks of being hired.
"The award justification stated that the director ‘…took extraordinary initiative to assist the Acting Chief Financial Officer in a final decision to transition the EPA to a fully automated invoice processing system….’" the inspector general said. "On June 25, 2015—6 weeks later—OCFO gave the Director a second award for $4,500."
The reasoning for the second bonus was that the employee "put in place initiatives" to "provide more efficient operations."
A third bonus related to analyzing invoices was considered one month later.
"However, OCFO officials said that, in light of the [inspector general’s] review, there would be no award for the metrics analysis," the audit said.
Some EPA employees and managers praised the director’s "outstanding abilities," while others noted the unusual nature of the amount of bonuses they received in such a short amount of time.
Another manager said they were "disappointed" that they could not pay the director the $250,000 hiring bonus for moving.
"One manager noted that they were disappointed they were unable to provide the relocation incentive," the inspector general said. "The manager said there were internal discussions of potential awards and how management felt the need to treat the new director ‘well.’"
Others questioned the payments, and the EPA’s Chief Financial Officer did not even know about the second bonus.
"However, several OCFO managers did say that they have never seen such award amounts given in such a short period of time and within [three] months of being hired," the inspector general said. "In addition, while the acting Chief Financial Officer was aware of the first award, he said he was surprised by the second."
The audit revealed that no other employees in the director’s division received more than one bonus worth $4,500 in fiscal year 2015.
The EPA said it is "revisiting" the bonuses paid to the employee, and would put in place new processes to give further scrutiny to awards that total more than $5,000 in one year.