WASHINGTON - A House subcommittee is questioning whether former IRS employees were hired improperly for top-level jobs at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
At issue are employees who either have moved directly to the PBGC from the Internal Revenue Service, or who joined the PBGC after working at the IRS and then moving to another job. The concern is that these ex-IRS employees are put into career, or long-term, slots, yet are making policy decisions usually made by short-term political appointees.
The Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Service is examining whether these former IRS workers received civil service jobs or political appointments. Political appointees of the party in power usually serve only during that party's presidential term and try to further their party's initiatives. Career employees are long-term employees expected to be neutral.
Because of the limited time left in Congress' legislative calendar, the subcommittee plans to ask the General Accounting Office to do a separate investigation and report its findings to Congress, said Garry Ewing, majority legal counsel for the subcommittee.
A PBGC spokeswoman said the agency has not been contacted by any member of the subcommittee. She said the PBGC has "complied fully" with all civil service regulations when hiring employees.
"It is the policy of this agency to operate with the highest standards of public service," the PBGC spokeswoman said.
Martin Slate, the PBGC's executive director since 1993, was on vacation and not available for comment.
Mr. Slate worked at the IRS for 10 years before joining the PBGC; his last position was director of the IRS employee plans division.
While Mr. Slate - as a political appointee himself - has a great deal of leeway in his political appointments, he can't put political employees into career positions, Mr. Ewing said.
Both Mr. Ewing and Pensions & Investments found several sources who allege jobs were created at the PBGC to accommodate the former IRS staffers. These sources include current and former PBGC employees and people closely tied to the agency.
The P&I sources also allege existing career employees at the PBGC were shifted to other jobs or were given reduced responsibilities to make room for the ex-IRS employees. The sources said they could not remember such a high number of people coming from one sector to the PBGC in previous administrations, but the agency reported it has seen a 30% to 40% turnover in middle management levels historically.
What matters is how a person gets his or her government job, a federal personnel expert said. Political appointees can get as many people as they want into an agency, so long as the staffers are qualified. Many times competitive jobs are filled simply by handing a resume to the Office of Personnel Management and getting its approval that the candidate is qualified for the job, the expert said.
"From the outside it looks bad ... it may be completely rotten, but proving it is a difficult issue," the federal personnel expert said. "You have to have very concrete evidence that something (illegal) has happened."
A source at the Office of Special Counsel - which investigates federal employment practices - said the movement of people between agencies may be legal, but what's "highly unusual" is the number of people involved. (The Office of Special Counsel is not investigating the matter because its authority is not extended to government corporations like the PBGC.)
The PBGC spokeswoman said "many qualified professionals" were hired by the agency at a senior level, or at a high government service level, between 1993 and July 1996, but would not specify a number. Sources estimate the agency has hired at least 18 people with IRS backgrounds.
Senior-level staff - whether political appointees or civil servants - receive a salary between $83,160 and $115,700, while high government service level employees are paid between $52,867 and $95,531. (Managers are usually at the high government service level; executive managers generally are at the senior level.)
Federal budget reports showed the agency's full-time workers increased 23% to 731 in fiscal year 1997 from 595 in fiscal year 1993. Administrative costs have gone up 6.4% to $139.1 million in 1995 from $130.7 million in 1993, according to the PBGC spokeswoman, who added the jump largely was due to dealings with two of the largest plan terminations, both of which happened in 1990.
In the past three years, the PBGC lowered its deficit for its single-employer program nearly 74% to $315 million in 1995, leaving it at the lowest deficit level since 1981. Plus, it was wiped off the GAO's list of high-risk financial agencies.
"In the past three years the PBGC has had a record of unprecedented accomplishments," the spokeswoman said. "... The agency strengthened management in critical areas such as financial management, investments and internal controls. The agency's record speaks for itself."