The Environmental Protection Agency's independent investigator is raising questions about $9,000 in bonuses awarded to a new employee within three months of her hiring date.
The new director of the Research Triangle Park Finance Center, in North Carolina, received an "unprecedented" two bonuses totaling $9,000 within three months of her start date, the EPA Office of the Inspector General wrote in a report issued Monday.
While legal, the bonus payments were highly unusual, according to interviews conducted by investigators.
"Several [Office of the Chief Financial Officer] 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 report said. "In addition, while the acting chief financial officer was aware of the first award, he said he was surprised by the second."
According to the report, the new employee was hired in April and had asked if the EPA would pay relocation expenses. Despite attempts by the EPA, attempts to get relocation expenses or incentives for the employee were denied.
That led to staff and management at the EPA wanting to "treat the new director 'well,'" according to the report.
Within six weeks, she received a $4,500 bonus for helping the acting chief financial officer transition the EPA to a fully automated invoice processing system, the report stated. Six weeks after that bonus, she was given another $4,500 bonus, this time for putting initiatives into place that increased efficiency in her North Carolina office.
The report said a third bonus was considered but ultimately decided against once the inspector general began investigating.
Staff and managers said the new employee was "outstanding" and had done great work during her time in the new position. One manager said the EPA was disappointed to not be able to help her financially with relocation and there were internal discussions about bonuses.
The EPA felt the new director had to be treated well and found her to be deserving of the bonuses, according to the report.
"Although the individual awards were compliant with federal regulations and the EPA award policies and procedures, the amounts, justifications and timing raise questions about the reasonableness of the awards, as well as how [the Office of the Chief Financial Officer] used the awards process," the report states.
The investigation found other employees in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer didn't receive nearly the same amount of benefits.
During fiscal 2015, 11 employees received bonuses of $4,500 or more, but the new director was the only one to receive multiple bonuses of that amount. Three other employees in the office received second bonuses, but those were in the range of $750 to $1,000.
The investigators recommended the EPA put better management policies in place for bonuses of more than $5,000 "to ensure awards are reasonable and justified." They also encouraged the EPA to revisit whether the new director's bonuses were reasonable and justified.
In his response to the investigation, Stanley Meiburg, acting deputy administrator of the EPA, said the agency wants to talk to all the people who were involved in the Inspector General's investigation before reviewing whether the $9,000 in bonuses were appropriate.
Meiburg also wrote that the EPA agrees a better system for handing out large bonuses is needed.
"The EPA will develop a process that will require the appropriate level of authorization on all awards over the threshold amount before they can be submitted to the Human Resources Shared Service Center," he wrote. "This process would then be incorporated into EPA policy."