Bonus blunderers

Rewarding incompetence has become institutionalized in the federal bureaucracy.

American taxpayers will be chagrined to learn that, while many of this country's military veterans were receiving shoddy treatment at government-run medical facilities, a substantial majority of the bureaucrats in charge of the system did much better.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 65 percent of the department's senior executives — more than 300 people — last year received performance bonuses totaling $2.7 million. The amount paid in bonuses in 2013 was down from the $3.4 million in bonuses paid in 2012.

The VA, naturally, defended what on its face is laughable, arguing that the bonuses are necessary to attract skilled managers to keep this sprawling organization running at a high level. Of course, that they failed to meet that performance standard appears to be irrelevant to the bonus-awarding process in the VA.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the evidence indicates to him that the cash awards "have become irrelevant to quality work product."

Further, in government how does one determine quality work that merits a bonus? There's no profit goals to be reached, no real measure of performance except, of course, for patient-treatment numbers that have been falsified.

The bonus system mimics compensation practices in private enterprise, an area where performance can be easily measured, in only one respect — more money paid out. How else can one explain the mixed message the VA sends to the public by rewarding incompetence?

While President Barack Obama and Congress are studying what to do about the disaster at the VA, they ought to devote some additional thought to executive-branch bonus compensation plans that appear to reward excellence in name only.

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