More than 230 federal employees were recognized Nov. 15 for their commitment to government service via the annual Presidential Rank Award, entitling them to hefty cash bonuses.
It’s the second consecutive year of awards since they were suspended in 2020 due to the pandemic, though this one was again conducted virtually. Senior-level employees from 33 agencies were chosen by President Joe Biden on Tuesday to receive the awards as a testament to “hardworking civil servants who exemplify strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to public service through their exceptional leadership, contributions, and accomplishments.”
Among this year’s awardees are a Department of Agriculture employee who established a Personal Protective Equipment distribution program, a Department of Energy employee who the agency said has led the nation’s transition to zero-emissions electric vehicles, and a NASA employee who was credited for the mission success of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful ever.
The award is one of the highest honors given to career federal employees who have climbed the ranks into the Senior Executive Service. Candidates undergo a nomination process that by the end rewards very few.
Agencies may nominate as much as 9% of their SES employees, of which only 5% go on to be recognized as a “Meritorious Executive” and 1% recognized as “Distinguished.”
With a framed certificate signed by the President and a pin, the recognition also comes with a monetary reward. Set forth by statute, awardees given the Distinguished Rank Award can receive a 35% bonus of their rate of basic pay. Meritorious Rank Award recipients receive 20%.
Salaries for employees in the Senior Executive Service can range from about $135,000 to $200,000. One-time award bonuses generally range from about $27,000 to nearly $70,000.
Though members of the SES are subject to salary caps, which employee groups have decried as contributing to pay compression that lags the private sector, anyone who receives the award is entitled to the full cash sum, even if it pushes them over the pay ceiling.
If that’s the case, the Office of Personnel Management said, the agency should withhold the excess and include it as a lump payment made at the beginning of the next calendar year.
Each agency pays for its executives’ rank awards, and should consider and plan for awards as part of executive compensation each year, according to OPM.
“Last year, we were thrilled that the Office of Personnel Management brought back the Presidential Rank Awards,” said Ronald Klain, White House Chief of Staff, in a statement. “The President believes strongly in highlighting the accomplishments of federal civil servants and supporting our federal workforce.
There are other awards available to non-executive members of the civil service, some broken down by occupation while others are general. Some are sponsored by employee organizations, like the Federal Managers Association or American Society for Public Administration.
The Presidential Rank Award was established by statute in 1978. As administrator of the PRAs, OPM develops the criteria for agencies, makes determinations of eligibility, and convenes meetings of PRA Review Boards to evaluate the nominees. The OPM Director then recommends finalists to the President, who selects the PRA recipients.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.