Barton calls for better oversight, tighter rules on pay for “federal special consultants”
WASHINGTON, DC: The Subcommittee on Health held a hearing Friday to examine the pay for federal consultants under the Title 42 program. Title 42 allows some at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to earn well above normal salary limits for federal employees. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) recently introduced the HHS Employee Compensation Reform Act of 2012, which would set salary caps and increase Congressional oversight of Title 42.
"Bureaucrats at HHS and the EPA are using Title 42 as an alternative pay system that circumvents the pay structures that Congress creates to make sure hard working taxpayer dollars are spent judiciously. Title 42 was not created to unnecessarily inflate government employees' salaries. It is clear that legislation is needed to reign in this practice," Rep. Barton said in his opening statement at the hearing entitled 'Title 42 – A Review of Special Hiring Authorities.'
The program has allowed some employees of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make in excess of $350,000, which is $100,000 more than the Vice President is paid. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also used Title 42 to pay some employees upwards of $250,000. The hiring and determination of the salaries of these employees are within the sole discretion of the Secretary of HHS and the Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at the EPA.
"I want the best and the brightest and the revolutionary cure-discovering scientists to help this country by working at HHS and especially at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is originally why Congress passed legislation that granted HHS a special hiring authority to recruit and retain these experts. I understand that some hiring flexibility was and is needed to attract scientists who could have a lucrative career in private industry, but with a more competitive salary available are willing to serve the public at HHS," Barton added.
A recently released GAO report, requested by Rep. Barton, showed that this "special" program had become prevalent.
"However, with little to no congressional oversight until now, the use of this special hiring authority has become commonplace. The GAO report reveals that nearly 25% of all NIH employees are Title 42 employees and about 10% of all HHS employees are under Title 42, totaling more than 6,000 employees. Now, even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using a HHS statute to hire dozens of employees under Title 42," Barton said.
Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) echoed the need for oversight and praised Rep. Barton's bill.
"Uncle Sam should pay competitive wages in order to attract the best and brightest minds; however, we will not tolerate abuse of the system as we must also be mindful of our duty to ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely and in a transparent manner," said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fed Upton (R-MI). "HHS' expansive and rapid increase of the use of 'Title 42' is cause for concern. I applaud Congressman Barton for his efforts to implement common sense boundaries that prevent abuse of taxpayer dollars and provide for additional Congressional oversight."
The HHS Employee Compensation Reform Act of 2012 does the following:
(1) Limits the use of this hiring mechanism to only the Department of Health and Human Services, (2) Limits the total number of Title 42 employees at HHS to five percent of total employees, (3) Limits the pay of Title 42 employees by designating a salary cap equal to 150% of the annual rate of pay for Level I of the Executive Schedule, (4) Requires HHS to annually report to Congress the number of Title 42 employees and break the numbers down by agency, and (5) At any time, up to 50 individuals serving pursuant to this subsection may be paid without regard to the limitation on compensation if the Secretary finds that each such individual's service is vital to support the activities of the Department of Health and Human Services.