Female employees at the National Security Agency were less likely to receive individual retention incentives than their male colleagues during a 2019 audit, according to an Oct. 28 report issued by the agency’s inspector general.
NSA is authorized to offer certain employees additional compensation if managers believe that those employees perform unique, critical functions for the agency that might otherwise leave if not offered that money. Incentives can be offered on an individual or group basis.
“We found that although the retention incentive program was not designed to be evenly distributed across directorate, gender and ethnicity, the individual retention incentives that were authorized based on management judgment were not evenly distributed across the Agency’s directorates and did not reflect the agency’s civilian population by gender, although it did represent the agency’s civilian population by race/ethnicity,” the IG reported.
“Only 14 percent of individual retention incentives were authorized to women, even though they comprised 41 percent, or an almost three times greater percentage of the total civilian workforce.”
The gender discrepancy was part of a larger finding that the NSA retention incentive program — which paid a total $16,720,500 between March 2018 and March 2019 — lacked sufficient oversight and goals to ensure that it was actually effective in retaining the needed employees.
The review found that many applications for individual incentives failed to explain the unique skill the employee provided, the reason why the employee would otherwise be likely to leave the agency or why some payments exceeded the agency-suggested market calculation for such payments. And three quarters of the justifications for renewing an employee’s incentive were just copied exactly from the previous year’s forms.
“The OIG conducted independent data analysis in an effort to assess the effectiveness of the individual retention program, and found 45 employees who received a retention incentive for at least five consecutive years, and may therefore consider it to be a permanent pay increase, and 186 employees who resigned after receiving a retention incentive within the past five years, of which 162, or 87 percent resigned while actually receiving a retention incentive,” the IG reported.
Some payments exceeded the legal limitations placed on the dollar amounts without proper agency justification and paperwork — resulting in at least $4.2 million in unauthorized retention incentives — with 23 percent of those employees that received overpayments resigning from the agency within a month of that overpayment being identified.
“The OIG concluded that the NSA lacked administrative controls necessary to ensure that it was properly determining eligibility and incentives in a consistent manner,” the IG reported.
“Moreover, we found that without more defined program goals and a documented process for evaluating success, the agency cannot determine whether the program is effectively expending agency resources in retaining key personnel, and doing so without risk to other work roles and programs. Additionally, we found that the agency paid significant amounts in what the OIG determined were or may be noncompliant group retention incentives.”