Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) is questioning what she calls “excessive” bonuses awarded to Transportation Security Administration officials, but calls it a symptom of a larger issue across federal agencies.

Senator Claire McCaskill

Senator Claire McCaskill

During a Senate committee hearing on recent issues with TSA – including delays that have caused people to miss flights and undercover agents successfully sneaking 67 out of 70 weapons, explosives, and other forbidden items by TSA screeners – Senator McCaskill questioned bonuses for TSA officials including a $100,000 bonus to a top administrator that was awarded incrementally, which she said was a way to hide it and skirt a 20-percent cap.

“Is there any connection to bonuses paid on whether the agency is succeeding? You know in the private sector the bonus pool changes based on how the company did, and that’s not been the way in government,” said McCaskill. “I don’t think anybody looking objectively at TSA over the last couple of years would say that the bonus pool should be really big.”

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said bonuses are now based on agency and individual performance.

“I’ve severely limited both the type and the number of bonuses that can be handed out in an agency, and I’ve put controls on it above me,” said Neffenger. “My concern was that the agency had the ability to independently assign bonuses. I now require department oversight for that.”
McCaskill applauds those changes with TSA but wants a review of senior federal executives across more agencies.

“This is really a symptom of this SES service I think, and the lack of reform that has occurred with the Senior Executive Service,” said McCaskill.

She said SES began as a way to get talent in management and government by hiring competitively to the private sector and that managers would move from agency to agency gathering experience.

“Well that’s long since been abandoned. These are people who’ve burrowed in to one agency that hang out long enough to figure out how to get SES and then they get paid a lot more and this is where we’ve seen a lot of abuse in terms of bonuses,” said McCaskill.

She also expressed concern with how TSA treats whistleblowers – employees who call attention to issues within in the Administration – citing a report in which a TSA whistleblower’s lawsuit took ten years to go through the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court found in his favor, but in that time he was passed over for promotions.

“TSA said, ‘Well we can’t speculate how much he would have been promoted in ten years,'” said McCaskill. “They put him back at his other job and frankly he’s still getting passed over to this day.”

A TSA official said he would review how the agency compares to other Homeland Security agencies in whistleblower complaints and retaliation complaints.