GOP senators question pre-sequester FAA employee bonuses

A group of 17 GOP senators questioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Friday over reports the agency gave bonuses to staffers weeks before implementing furloughs after the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester began. 

The FAA reportedly gave bonuses to several employees in January, which was three months before the agency furloughed air traffic controllers and purposely delayed flights for a week in April because of the sequester.

The GOP lawmakers demanded an explanation Friday from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the pre-sequester bonuses.

“We are very concerned by these reports as they once again indicate both a lack of sound business management and a failure by the FAA to adequately plan for implementation of sequestration,” the senators wrote to Huerta. “At the time when sequestration was one month away, the FAA’s leadership ignored Secretary LaHood’s specific guidance and awarded bonuses.”

The bonuses were first reported this week by The Wall Street Journal.

The letter complaining about the bonuses was signed by Sens. Dan Coats (Ind.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.). 

The Republicans said they wanted the FAA to "explain what impacts these additional salary expenditures had on your decision to implement sequestration by imposing across the board furlough cuts, instead of implementing sequestration in a way that would minimize the impact to the greatest number of passengers."

The senators also asked that the FAA "share with us the savings to the FAA if the agency had not awarded salary bonuses."

The FAA said on Friday that the pre-sequester payments were not bonuses.

Instead, the agency said that the employees were given "small pay increases" and noted that the payments went to a small portion of the FAA's 47,000 employees.

"These are not bonuses – in fact, the FAA has a bonus and pay freeze in place," the agency said after the letter was made public on Friday. "The small pay increases in question average 1.6 percent, given to about a quarter of FAA employees, based on work performed in the previous year."

The FAA added that the payments were distributed on the condition that the agency met performance goals for 2012.

"In order to distribute these increases, the entire agency is required to meet a series of specific operational goals each year," the agency said. "Last year the FAA met more than 93 percent of its performance goals for Fiscal Year 2012 including a second consecutive year without a commercial air carrier fatality, installation of updated air traffic control technology that increases efficiencies in the national airspace system, and the identification of more than $93 million in cost avoidance."

--This report was updated at 3:32 p.m.