In the final month before they relinquished control to Republicans, House Democrats handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra pay to employees being squeezed out of work.
The recipients ranged from clerical workers and junior staff members who got an extra $500 apiece in December to senior aides who walked away with lump sums as high as $12,000.
The Associated Press used a computer analysis to review year-end payroll records for more than 1,000 employees on 40 House committees, subcommittees and caucuses. It identified $665,564 in December pay boosts to 415 aides.
In most cases, Democratic committee chairmen opted to use leftover funds in their budgets to ease the burden for ousted staff members rather than return the money to the federal treasury.
House Republicans had refused to authorize severance pay for fired Democratic staff. They later agreed to allow aides to be paid for unused vacation days.
The most common method for the committee chairmen was to change staff members’ annual salaries, in some cases doubling or tripling them in December to ensure a sizable one-month boost.
Among the beneficiaries was Rhoda Glickman, wife of defeated Kansas Rep. Dan Glickman, who was subsequently nominated to be Agriculture secretary. She got an extra $1,962 for her last month of work at the Congressional Arts Caucus, an advisory panel eliminated by Republicans.
Rhoda Glickman’s annual salary on the caucus was $84,685 before the bonus, $108,234 afterward. She since has joined her husband in the Clinton administration, which hired her as a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
Rhoda Glickman did not return three phone calls to her office and home seeking comment.
The financial maneuvers were legal under congressional rules that give committee chairmen broad spending latitude.
But after an election that focused on rolling back government spending, the financial largess drew criticism.
“It really shouldn’t be in the purview of the chairman to take taxpayers’ money and hand out bonuses,” said David Keating, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers’ Union, which advocates cutting government spending and taxes.
Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C., who authorized $153,054 in extra December pay for his staff members on the House Administration Committee, said it did not cost taxpayers extra money.
“The money was available in the appropriation to do it,” Rose said.
In addition to changing staff members’ salaries, Rose used his authority as committee chairman to give his aides cash for unused vacation time before the GOP approved it.
“When people work and accumulate leave time they don’t take and their jobs are terminated, they have a right to be paid for it,” Rose said.
The combination allowed some of Rose’s aides to walk away with some of the largest sums of any committee studied by AP. Topping the list were two of Rose’s communication staff members: Carole T. Roberts, who got an extra $12,458 in December, and Ellen McCarthy, who got $12,271.
The average amount of extra pay for all the committees was $1,604 per person.
The vast majority of staff members to get pay boosts were Democrats, who were certain to lose their jobs with the historic shift of power to Republicans. But in some cases, GOP staff members got extra pay as well.
Former District of Columbia Committee staff director Broderick Johnson said pay hikes on his panel were given out of “concern about what was happening to people” and “to say thank you to those who had worked for so long.”
But personnel records show some of the beneficiaries had served the committee less than four months and at least two staff members suffered no significant lapse in employment.
Kamala Lyon, a receptionist and scheduler, said she worked in the Hayward, Calif., office of Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark for 2 1/2 years before moving to Washington last August. She still was listed on Stark’s office payroll as of Sept. 30.
But her November and December paychecks were drawn on the payroll of the D.C. Committee, which Stark chairs. She got an extra $5,000 in December. Just 15 days after leaving the committee, she got a job with another California Democrat, freshman Rep. Zoe Lofgren.
House records show that Stark’s personal assistant, Ella Mumphard, similarly was shifted onto the D.C. Committee payroll sometime after Sept. 30 and received $4,725 in extra pay in December.
She has since returned to Stark’s congressional office.
Stark’s office said the committee, in its final days, needed extra people to pack up the offices and archive decades’ worth of files.