The Social Security Administration gave bonuses to employees who were caught sleeping and drinking on the job, according to a new audit by the agency’s inspector general.
The agency paid out $145,000 in bonuses in 2013 to employees who were written up or suspended for misconduct. Some employees received performance awards after they were suspended for sexual harassment and bringing weapons to work.
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"SSA paid about $145,000 in monetary awards to 240 employees it disciplined for conduct issues," the audit said, using an acronym for the agency. "SSA reprimanded 126 (52.5 percent) employees, suspended 113 (47.1 percent), and demoted 1 (0.4 percent). The primary reasons SSA cited for the disciplinary actions included discourteous conduct, unauthorized access to SSA records, failure to follow SSA procedures, and misuse of Government credit cards."
Fifty-one employees received bonuses after they were suspended for misconduct that included "possession of a weapon onsite, sexual harassment, sleeping while on duty, consumption of alcohol on Federal property, and certifying false evidence resulting in the issuance of a Social Security number."
One employee was rewarded with a $325 "Recognition of Contribution" bonus after he was suspended for 45 days for "being rude and discourteous to the public and management, possession of a weapon, and lack of candor."
An "Exemplary Contribution or Service Award" worth $650 was given to another worker who was suspended for five days after making 21 improper purchases with a government credit card.
"The credit card bill was 45 days overdue, and the employee owed over $1,300," the audit found.
The government watchdog cited union collective bargaining agreements as the reason employees who had been punished for misbehavior still received bonuses.
"SSA policy indicates that employees evaluated under SSA’s Performance Assessment and Communications System must be in good standing to be eligible for [bonuses]," the audit report said. "However, this policy is subject to the provisions of Union/Management contracts, which take precedence for bargaining unit employees."
The agency considered all the employees who received bonuses to be in "good standing."
"SSA considers employees in good standing when their rating of record (appraisal) is at least a summary level 3.0 (performing successfully), and the employee is not serving on an Opportunity to Perform Successfully Plan," they added. "SSA told us the 240 employees it disciplined for conduct issues were in good standing when they received their award."
Hundreds of employees who received written reprimands also were given performance awards, totaling $82,000, including $20,988 to workers who accessed agency records even though they were not authorized to do so.
"Reasons SSA cited for the remaining 39 reprimands included misuse of Government computers or credit card, absence without official leave, failure to comply with leave procedures, misuse of duty time, lack of candor, concealing work, theft, failure to follow office policy, falsified timesheets, and failure to protect personally identifiable information," the OIG said.
In one case, an employee received four performance awards worth $1,800 after being reprimanded for unauthorized access to SSA records. Another employee was given $1,400 after they had lied on a timesheet.
The inspector general recommended that the agency review its policy manual and its union agreements in relation to disciplinary actions and bonuses.
The agency said it would review whether certain misconduct should prevent an employee from receiving a bonus, but defended the $145,000 in bonuses it paid out as acting within current government rules.
"We appreciate your efforts in conducting this review and while we generally agree with the recommendations, neither our awards policy nor the Office of Personnel Management guidance prohibits giving an award to an employee who has been disciplined for conduct," the agency said in response to the audit. "In addition, we believe it is important to reiterate that the review found no instances of noncompliance with current law, regulation, agency policy, or contractual agreements."