Familiar path to a better job

Newswatch ... on federal workers

January 02, 1991|By Mick Rood | Mick Rood,States News Service

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, one of Congress' staunchest supporters of federal workers, wondered last year whether Department of Energy employees at grade 13 or higher were leaving their jobs to work for government contractors at higher pay.

In a recently released General Accounting Office report, Stevens found that some DOE officials were, indeed, doing just that.

The GAO surveyed the 246 DOE officials who either retired or resigned during fiscal 1989 and, when three-fourths of them responded, the auditors discovered:

* Ninety-one of the 127 Energy Department departees who worked again were employed by government contractors or grantees.

* As many as 78 -- some weren't sure -- said their work was funded by those federal contracts and grants and most of them said they were doing the same kind of work that they had done at DOE.

* Forty-three of the 78 making a living off government money said their private paychecks were higher than their government pay had been. Of the ones who gave figures, the average increase was more than $8,000.

Of those who quit rather than retire, the most oft-cited reason for leaving Uncle Sam was a chance at advancement. A close second was a bigger salary. Other motives included changes in career plans, increased benefits and avoidance of federal post-employment restrictions.

GAO found that more than half the 52 former DOE employees who worked full time after government service enjoyed better health benefits in private industry. Identified less often as superior benefits were company bonus programs, life insurance and thrift savings plans.

In another sign that the government is suffering in its battle to keep high-echelon employees, GAO did a spot check of 14 former energy officials to see what their government bosses thought about their performance. Supervisors said 12 of those employees they lost were "very good" while the other two were rated "good."

GAO, which did its work between April and September in 1990, also cited numerous other broader studies that have found pay and advancement hampering the federal work force.

A study by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board revealed that the turnover rate at the same Energy Department in 1987 was 25 percent in DOE employees' first year. The departure percentage dropped dramatically the longer an employee stayed with the government. The board said salary was the most prevalent reason for quitting.

On the sensitive topic of how to avoid conflicts of interest at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the independent federal regulator of futures markets, the General Accounting Office concludes that the agency's overall system works pretty well.

But the auditors fussed that the commission takes too long in reviewing employees' reports on their outside interests and deciding whether or not conflicts exist.

Currently, the commission prohibits outright some employee holdings and requires disclosures by 349 of its 558 employees to assure there are no conflicts of interest with their government duties. Most of the disclosures remain private, but 31 high-level presidential appointees and senior executives are required to file public reports.

A GAO sample of nine public reports and 14 confidential ones revealed that the commission and the auditors agreed that no conflicts existed. That may be fine, the GAO said, but what about timeliness?

The commission did not make conflict of interest decisions on 19 out of the 31 public reports inside of two months as the federal ethics law required. Some decisions took more than six months, the GAO said. Also, the auditors said the commission did not ask employees to reveal their financial transactions during the year or the dollar value of their total holdings -- facts that would be pivotal in deciding some employees' potential conflicts.

In explaining the need for added disclosure requirements, GAO said:

"Currently, employees can engage in prohibited transactions during the year, such as the purchase and sale of commodity futures contracts, and not be required to disclose the transactions in their year-end disclosure reports because they do not hold the financial interests on the last day of the reporting period."

GAO noted that the Department of Agriculture didn't require the added information either, but later sought permission from the Office of Government Ethics to ask the questions of its employees.

Also, before the auditors published their report on the commission's ethics program, the commission decided to ask their employees the number and value of shares held in reported entities.

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