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Bill proposes VA executive bonus caps

The total amount of money available as bonuses for senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs would be capped under legislation passed on Tuesday by the House of Representatives.

Frustrated lawmakers decided to limit the overall amount of bonuses after hearing testimony that nearly $4 million worth of bonuses had gone out to a few hundred VA execs in recent years.

“Any monies spent by VA on bonuses need to take into account both today’s economic and fiscal climate, as well as the extraordinary performance that must be documented for award of money in excess of a base salary,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., in July.

The Congressional Budget Office, in its summary of the House bill, estimated bonuses to VA senior executive service employees came to about $4 million annually in the last few years.

For that reason, the CBO estimates that a $1 million cap on SES bonuses would produce a savings $13 million between 2013 and 2017.

Congress’ concern over bonuses is not only tied to the poor economy, but to a history of VA delays in getting veterans in for mental health assessments, a backlog of disability claims and allegations that some executives fudged the numbers on patient appointments to meet goals and reap bonuses.

After allegations that some “gamed” the system, the VA cancelled 43 of 78 bonuses previously available to SES employees. Others are still under review.

In total in 2011, the VA paid out nearly $400 million in bonuses. The measure passed by the House on Tuesday targets only the senior executive service. Compensation for SES employees begins at about $120,000, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The $1 million cap on bonuses passed by the House appears to be a compromise with a bill submitted in July by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. Stearns’ bill would have barred all SES bonuses at the VA.

“I want to ensure the best care for our veterans, but the VA continues to have an unmanageable backlog, extremely long wait lists, and a poor record on oversight. Given this troubling record, the VA should discontinue paying bonuses to its top executives,” he said at the time.

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