House votes to OK honoraria
The House has voted to lift the ban on honoraria for most federal employees, an action that would allow them to once again accept money for speeches, articles and other activities unrelated to their work.
The measure would correct what Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the bill's sponsor, called the over-regulation of public employees.
The bill isn't expected to be considered by the Senate until after the holiday recess.
The legislation to lift the honoraria ban was passed by voice vote in the House at 10 p.m. Monday, leading one lawmaker who opposes the bill and missed the vote to accuse Frank and others of slipping it through when he was unaware.
Pennsylvania Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, a Democrat, said the bill would disgrace Congress much like the recent controversy over members who bounced checks at the now-defunct House bank.
Frank said yesterday that the honoraria ban passed by Congress a year ago inadvertently included rank-and-file federal employees along with lawmakers, Cabinet members and other top government officials.
That was a mistake that hurt many workers who received money for lectures, fiction-writing, preaching or providing medical treatment -- services that were unrelated to their government jobs, he said.
The legislation would allow government workers who are paid less than $74,000 to collect up to $2,000 for each speech or activity. Those who earn between $74,000 and $101,299 would be required to report any honorarium worth more than $200. Government executives and others earning $101,300 would still be prohibited from accepting honoraria.
A worker could earn such outside pay only if the activity occurs on personal time, does not relate to the employee's responsibilities or involve government resources, Frank said.
"A person working as a federal employee who has an interest in stamps should be able to give a lecture on stamps, or on flowers or on gardening or whatever extracurricular activity there might be," said Rep. George W. Gekas, R-Pa., a supporter of the bill.
During a floor debate after the bill was passed, Kanjorski argued that lifting the ban without requiring workers to report the income would lead to scandal.
"A $2,000 honorarium was not a speech to the garden club," Kanjorski said he has told Frank. "It's quite a substantial payment."
He added, "Unfortunately, this bill allows federal employees of agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and, yes, the employees of individual senatorial [and] congressional offices here on the Hill" to accept honoraria without disclosure.
He contended that in a year's time, many workers could earn as much as $100,000 a year without scrutiny from employers.
Frank responded, "I very much regret this tendency to denigrate RTC the integrity of the people who work for the federal government."
Common Cause supports the bill, as does the American Civil Liberties Union, he said.
So do two federal employees' unions.
"We're very pleased the House took that step," said Diane S. Witiak, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees. Before it was banned, honoraria allowed federal workers -- who make on average 30 percent less than private sector workers -- to make up for some of the disparity, she said.
"This allows federal employees to pursue common hobbies that are outside the scope of their employment," added Josh Neiman, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees.
Federal pay initiatives:
Congress has passed legislation that would protect senior federal employees from receiving arbitrary cuts in income. The pay for federal workers who are part of the Senior Executive Service could be reduced only for reasons of misconduct.
The bill now goes to Bush to be signed.
The service was established to encourage experienced managers to stay with the federal government and not leave for private industry.
The House will soon consider a bill that would provide lost wages to Postal Service and federal employees who were called to duty during the Gulf War.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., and
Maryland's Constance Morella, D-8th, and approved by the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, would provide federal employees and postal workers the difference between their regular salaries and their military pay if the military wages were less than their civilian wages.
The bill, which would affect nearly 17,000 federal and postal workers, is estimated to cost $38 million. But committee members emphasized that the money is already appropriated to the Department of Defense and will not require any new funds.
After much prodding by federal employees' unions, President Bush has appointed his nine-member Federal Salary Council to recommend ways to eliminate the gap between federal and private sector pay.
The members include John N. Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees; Peter A. Tchirkow, AFGE compensation specialist; Sheila K. Velazco, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, and Robert N. Tobias, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.