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Dems throw more money at federal workers to boost morale

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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies before the House Homeland Security Full Committee, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson this week boosted pay for some of his workers as part of a plan to increase morale at his department, a solution that seems to be a favorite among Democrats when it comes to making sure federal workers are happy.

Johnson made the announcement after the Washington Post reported that DHS has a "dysfunctional" culture that is leading to unhappy workers. Another factor, that story said, is that many senior employees find they can make more money outside the government.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says he is throwing money at DHS employees to help keep them happy. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

"It's a very dysfunctional environment, the hardest I've ever worked in," one former senior DHS official told the Post. "There were certainly times where you would say, 'I just got the crap kicked out of me, and I'm making way less than I can make in the private sector.' "

Johnson said the Post story overplayed tensions at his department because he has already taken steps over the last nine months that include ensuring people are paid for their "good work."

"[W]e have embarked on a Department-wide 'Unity of Effort' initiative, begun aggressive campaigns to improve morale, made our hiring, promotion and training opportunities more transparent, recognize and reward employees for their good work, and provide better pay for our people," he said.

According to DHS, the department is paying senior officials anywhere between $120,000 and $180,000 per year.

Even as Johnson was saying more money has helped solve the problem, another House Democrat was proposing more money. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, told a Houston radio station on Monday that DHS workers should get raises.

"We're losing many of our very fine professionals not because of a morale issue, but really because of a compensation issue," she said. "We have to look again at our pay scale. We have to look at incentives. We have to be able to provide a bonus structure."

The issue of pay for federal workers has been a focal point in the fight between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The GOP was able to impose a three-year pay freeze across the government, between 2011 and 2013.

Federal workers were able to see a 1 percent pay hike in 2014, after Congress failed to pass new language blocking that raise. But even when that freeze was in effect, federal workers were able to get "step" increase within their pay grade, and of course were eligible for bonuses.

Still, Democrats claimed that the pay freeze was having an effect on morale. Back in March, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked the Government Accountability Office to examine job satisfaction of federal workers and look at how to improve morale, in the face of the pay freeze.

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