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Thriving 'spoils'

Other editors say

This is about the worst time for Bush to give appointees &

36;25,000 bonuses

Los Angeles Times

Ever since Thomas Jefferson kept rival Federalists out of government offices, political leaders have prized the spoils system, as in to the victor belong the spoils. President Andrew Jackson booted out supporters of John Quincy Adams ' and saw his newly appointed collector of the Port of New York flee to Europe with a fortune in customs fees.

Now the Bush White House is rewarding political appointees through Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.'s decision to restore for them cash bonuses of up to &

36;25,000 a year or more. The bonuses may well be more than an early Christmas gift to loyal supporters, but the failure of the administration to disclose them until they were reported by the New York Times should raise eyebrows. Aside from the question of whether big year-end executive rewards are a good idea in a down economy, Bush needs to ensure that bonuses are awarded in a fashion beyond reproach.

Politicians have long relied on perks like bonuses to reward financial backers and campaign workers. Reforms are always in the works.

After the Civil War, Congress approved a merit-based system that ended up providing the basis for today's Civil Service, but thousands of noncompetitive jobs remain ' to the anguish of career employees who believe that they miss out on the influence and perks commanded by appointees.

The very abuses suspected by career employees appeared to take place in the last days of the first Bush White House in 1993. Then-Attorney General William P. Barr disbursed &

36;7,500 bonuses to two aides who promptly accompanied him to a Washington law firm. To clean up the process, Leon E. Panetta, White House chief of staff under President Clinton, banned bonuses to senior political appointees in 1994.

No doubt some political appointees deserve bonuses and should not arbitrarily be denied the pay received by equivalent Civil Service employees. But the White House is on the right track in its reported statement that Cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs should review any bonuses and determine, as far as possible, that they are being distributed in a fair way.

Even more desirable would be a comprehensive bonus system, including the stipulation that recipients have served in government for at least a year. Bush needs to see to it that the bonuses are not just a gift in exchange for loyalty but a reward for extraordinary service to the taxpayers.