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McCaskill Questions Homeland Security Chief on Budget Concerns

Senator hears from Secretary Jeh Johnson on agency spending and contractor controls in hearing on DHS budget request


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today questioned Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson during a hearing on DHS’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2015.  

McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight, asked Secretary Johnson about the effectiveness of taxpayer-funded performance-based bonuses currently being awarded to highly paid Senior Executive Service (SES) employees.

“When the SES workforce was created, it sounded really good,” said McCaskill. “It sounded like what we were going to do is develop executive-level leaders and they were going to move through the government… that cross-pollination would be very important because the federal government is a large endeavor and having some kind of rotating superior executives that could help with government management issues sounded like a great idea. Well, that’s not what happened. What’s happened is these folks have burrowed in to the agencies where they work, and they never go anywhere. The vast majority of the SES personnel—and we’re up to 7,000 of them—have stayed in the same position and in the same organization for the entire SES portion of their career.”

A report by McCaskill’s oversight committee showed that the federal government spent more than $340 million on cash bonuses from 2008-2011 for SES employees. Additionally, nearly every member of the SES receives a bonus.  In 2011, the federal government gave bonuses to 6,519 members of the SES, approximately 81% of all SES employees.

McCaskill continued: “[SES personnel] are highly compensated, and in many agencies of the government they get automatic bonuses no matter what—no matter if they’ve had a good year or a bad year—and many times those bonuses are five figures, so I just would like you to take a look at whether or not we should go back and acknowledge that the original goal of this was a wrong goal and we want to burrow in and get expertise, and look at it from a department-wide situation because you probably have a huge number of SESs at DHS.”


McCaskill, previously introduced bipartisan legislation to stop the awarding of bonuses to SES employees during budget cuts from sequestration, and sent a letter urging the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effectiveness of these bonuses in improving the performance of managers and the agencies that they run.  


McCaskill also questioned Johnson on the prevalence and oversight of contractors at DHS, saying, “It’s worrisome to me that we continue to increase the number, size, and complexity of contracts, but the contracting workforce continues to shrink. That is a recipe for disaster.”


Johnson said in response: “I agree that is a problem that should be addressed and I want to work with this committee and make sure we have that balance exactly right.”


Click HERE to read highlights of McCaskill’s fight for stronger accountability in Washington.