WRAL Investigates

Annual bonuses built into congressional payrolls

Posted April 8, 2011

— As Congress wrangles over a budget and a possible halt to most federal government operations, members of congressional staffs not only don't face a potential furlough, they also can look forward to a hefty bonus in a few months.

Most staff members are considered "essential" employees and will continue to work through the shutdown, although some won't get paid for their time until a new federal budget is passed.

Still, WRAL Investigates found that bonuses are often built into the payroll for congressional staff members.

Thirteenth District Congressman Brad Miller, for instance, fashioned his budget to pay staff bonuses last year that topped 8 percent of their salaries, or an average of $4,800.

"That's a management tool, so we can run a more efficient office and motivate our employees to do well," said Miller, a four-term Democrat from Raleigh.

Miller has nine full-time staff members in Washington, D.C., and another nine in North Carolina to help attend to constituents' needs.

"Every fourth quarter is bonus time for congressional staff," said Jock Friedly, who runs LegiStorm, a nonprofit that tracks congressional pay.

LegiStorm found most lawmakers budget so they can give staff bonuses toward the end of the year.

"You don't see that, of course, in the rest of federal government, and you don't see that in much of the public sector, obviously," Friedly said.

WRAL Investigates Annual bonuses built into congressional payrolls

Members of Congress have broad discretion on how to spend their assigned office budgets. Annual payrolls for members of North Carolina's congressional delegation range from a low of $775,000 for 5th District Congresswoman Virginia Foxx a high of more than $1.1 million for 7th District Congressman Mike McIntyre.

Many save the biggest chunk of their budgets for the end of the year to hand out bonuses.

Miller's staff bonuses top the list for North Carolina members of the U.S. House. His payroll increased by 50 percent, from $256,526, to $372,399, from the third to fourth quarter of 2010, according to LegiStorm.

"(It's) a lower salary during the year and then a bigger end-of-year bonus," Miller said. "When you're telling staff members what that bonus is going to be, you've got their attention."

Pay records show the average salary of Miller's staffers in 2010 was about $60,800. Those salaries have risen slightly in recent years.

The last pay raise for members of Congress was in 2009, when the minimum pay for lawmakers rose to $174,000.

Friedly said most congressional staff members aren't getting rich, especially considering the long hours they work, the education they bring to the job and the high cost of living in Washington.

"This is not a group of people who, as a group, is being overpaid. That's for sure," he said. "They also work very hard."

5 Comments

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  • this is my Screen Name Apr 8, 7:42 p.m.

    Every business strives to get the best work out of their employees. However most businesses don't have the money for their staff. How can government justify spending OUR money to pay these people who should be doing their job the same way the rest of us do ours, the best way we can???

  • thepeopleschamp Apr 8, 7:00 p.m.

    Congressmen should make the same pay during their first term that an entry level school teacher or police officer makes.

  • x2getrealplease Apr 8, 6:54 p.m.

    As usual, the rules are different for those making the rules, and heaven forbid they practice what they preach. What about the following quote ""That's a management tool, so we can run a more efficient office and motivate our employees to do well," said Miller, a four-term Democrat from Raleigh.

    "That's a management tool, so we can run a more efficient office and motivate our employees to do well," said Miller, a four-term Democrat from Raleigh." for example, and most of the work force of the United States? (Look at NC's state employees for example. This is sickening. If most of these candidates and then congressmen can afford to run in the first place, (and look at their annual incomes prior to and currently) tell me why they should not live with the salary in place at the time they are hired/elected like they preach to all of us. So lets look at this at the next election. Oh, do they have any vacancies?????

  • bombayrunner Apr 8, 6:46 p.m.

    Good story, very interesting.

  • dcec48 Apr 8, 6:29 p.m.

    Government shutdown? Keep the government open & shut down Congress with no pay!!