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White House suspends Presidential Rank Awards

Jun. 12, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, objected to the White House's decision not to issue Presidential Rank Awards. (Rob Curtis / Staff)

The White House this year will not issue Presidential Rank Awards, which carry bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars to selected executives and senior-level professionals,an administration official confirmed to Federal Times Wednesday.

In a statement, an administration official said that “in light of the reduced budgetary resources, expending funds on employee performance awards at this time would in many circumstances not be the most effective way to protect agency mission.”

The White House is encouraging agencies to find other ways to recognize exceptional performance, without handing out cash bonuses. Acting Office of Personnel Management Director Elaine Kaplan issued a memo Tuesday extending the nomination period for the rank awards to Friday, even though President Obama will not be issuing any awards. OPM is required by law to solicit those nominations, but the White House said the nominations could help the administration find exceptional executives whom it can recognize in nonmonetary ways.

The Senior Executives Association objected to the White House’s decision, and said the rank awards are required by law. SEA President Carol Bonosaro said it is shortsighted to sacrifice a program that rewards excellence in government, especially since rank award winners often save taxpayers billions of dollars.

“At such a challenging time, we need the kind of executives exemplified by the Presidential Rank Awards, and we cannot afford yet another action which chips away at the few remaining attractors for service in the career executive corps,” Bonosaro said.

Presidential Rank Awards are one of the highest honors a civil servant can receive, and are usually awarded to only a small fraction of Senior Executive Service members and other senior professionals across the government. Meritorious Rank Awards — limited to 5 percent of top executives and professionals — are lump-sum payments equivalent to 20 percent of the winner’s annual salary. Distinguished Rank Awards — given to up to 1 percent of senior executives and professionals — are equivalent to 35 percent of one’s salary.

The federal government has been awarding fewer rank awards in recent years. The 2012 rank awards, which were handed out in April, honored 130 federal executives, including 46 Distinguished Rank Award winners who saved the government more than $94 billion. But in 2008, the government handed out 353 total rank awards.

The Wall Street Journal first reported President Obama’s decision Tuesday.

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