The Washington Post reports 470 political appointees received $1.44 million in bonuses last year, according to an Office of Personnel Management report obtained by Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
The trading commission posted the highest average bonus. The State Department handed out the most in bonus money, $257,500, to 23 appointees.
In March 2002 the White House lifted a ban ordered by President Clinton in 1994 on paying bonuses to political appointees. Mr. Clinton imposed the ban because of questionable payments in the last days of the first Bush administration.
But President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, lifted the ban, allowing bonuses for "substantial work achievements that go well beyond the performance of routine duties."
Only 19 percent of the roughly 2,500 political appointees got the bonuses. High-level appointees — those confirmed by the Senate — cannot receive any bonuses. Under law, no bonuses can be paid in presidential election years.
With the government facing the largest deficit ever, some Democrats say the bonuses are unwise. They also feel they are unfair, since the Bush administration tried to block a 4.1 percent raise for civilian federal employees this year and is trying to privatize roughly half the federal workforce.
In December, the president said the government would not award federal workers their usual raises based on private sector salary growth in metropolitan areas. Mr. Bush cited the war against terrorism as the reason for not paying those raises. He later relented and salaries were adjusted retroactively.
But the administration says the bonuses are cheap, coming atop a total federal payroll of $100 billion. Plus, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan tells The Post, "the administration believes that federal workers should have the opportunity to be rewarded for excellence, whether they are career employees or political appointees."