Counting on a bonus? Don’t count too high!

If author Charles Dickens were alive today, and asked to write a novel based on the federal government’s bonus system he might title it either Bleak House or Not So Great Expectations!

The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget have announced this week the approach agencies must take on bonuses in 2014.

Uncle Sam’s bonus system is alive and kicking, but not very much. So…

When getting recognition for a job very well done would you rather have:

  • A hug/pat-on-the-back/handshake and a nice certificate, or
  • A four, five or six-figure check backed by the full faith of the U.S. government.

For many federal workers, an above-and-beyond-call-of-duty cash award is a moot point. Most people never get one. Those that do seldom get more than $1,000.

But Uncle Sam has been known to be generous at times. Just not at this time. Or lately, for that matter! White-collar feds haven’t had a pay raise in three years, although they are in line for a 1 percent increase in January. Things in the bonus-award world continue to be tight!

Sequestration caused or forced some agencies to scale back or in many cases eliminate bonuses this year. In 2011, agencies were told to limit most bonuses. There was a question as to whether SES awards are discretionary. The Senior Executives Association argued that the awards are required by law. So SES performance awards have been paid. The updated government guidelines agree.

Presidential rank awards for SES members can range from 20 to 35 percent of salary. Those for performance range from 5 to 20 percent of pay. That pay range (frozen at 2010 levels) is from $119,554 to $179,700.

The bottom line is that rank-and-file employees still have a chance at a bonus this year. Bonus programs set by union agreement are expected to continue. OMB and OPM will be monitoring agency programs.

If you are planning on a bonus to help finance your vacation, however, you might want to work on convincing your family that a long weekend in a tent in the backyard beats a trip to Hawaii every time.


Compiled by Jack Moore

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