The Environmental Protection Agency has been sending employees off into early retirement with buyout bonuses of up to $25,000. The practice is often used as a cost-saving measure, but because of the way the agency replaced the retirees, the bonuses may actually put a larger financial burden on taxpayers.

Pointing to a 2015 report by the EPA inspector general, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., charges that the agency may have inappropriately spent $1.4 million to pay about 60 employees for early retirement.

The agency paid nearly $12 million in buyout bonuses to encourage roughly 500 employees to retire that year, according to the EPA inspector general. But rather than modify or eliminate the jobs as required to cut costs, the agency simply refilled 12 percent of the positions.

But an EPA spokesman, Dan Abrams, told The Daily Signal that the “issue was quickly resolved,” the same month that the inspector general raised the issue. And he said that the buyouts “comported with the business cases, including budget neutrality, approved by the Office of Personnel Management.”

Paul’s office argues that even though the hires were budget neutral, their jobs only became available after the EPA paid old employees to leave.

Buyouts are not unusual in the public or private sector; they provide employers an alternative to layoffs. The measure allows the employer to clear the payroll of more senior and expensive employees by giving workers an incentive to retire early.

Known as Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments, according to the Office of Personnel Management, the buyouts are meant as a way to increase “voluntary attrition in agencies that are downsizing or restructuring.” But the Office of Personnel Management requires an executive agency to modify or eliminate the vacated position after the bonus is paid.

During an inspector general investigation, EPA officials said they were aware of the requirement. However, they disregarded the rule to keep “continuity” in one case and ignored it while under “time constraints” in another instance.

A rounding error on many federal balance sheets, the $1.4 million employee payout is indicative of an agency Paul’s office describes in a statement as “notorious for its job security.”

“Only 15 employees or one-tenth of 1 percent were terminated for performance; that is slightly more than the 13 EPA employees who died last year,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.