The Office of Personnel Management has recommended that the White House cancel its annual Presidential Rank Awards, due to financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On March 20, 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, OPM suspended sine die nominations for the FY2020 Presidential Rank Award,” an OPM spokesperson told Federal Times.

“In view of the federal government’s ongoing mission-critical efforts to reopen the U.S. economy and government offices, and recognizing the financial strain facing many Americans during this time, OPM will recommend to the White House that the PRA awards and bonus payments not be granted to federal employees in FY2020.”

The awards themselves were established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to recognize members of the Senior Executive Service for extended excellence and were later extended to include senior career employees who demonstrate exceptional service.

The awards come in two categories: Distinguished Rank Recipients, who are recognized for sustained extraordinary accomplishment and receive an award of 35 percent of their base salary, and Meritorious Rank Recipients, who are recognized for sustained accomplishment and receive a 20 percent award.

“Leaders in the federal service have worked in atypical conditions for nearly five months to deliver necessary stimulus to protect the American economy, provide insight on health-care advancements and the virus’s spread, and provide various essential services to the American people when they have needed it most. Now more than ever, we should be recognizing the individuals who have made these heroic efforts possible,” said Bob Corsi, interim president of the Senior Executives Association, in a statement.

“Canceling the Presidential Rank Awards has been framed as a way to avoid celebrating some workers when millions around the country remain unemployed and economically unstable. It is important for the public sector to be sensitive to the issues occurring within the broader economy; however, just as private sector companies will continue to highlight standout employees assisting their company in surviving these troubling times, the federal sector should not shy away from appreciating the employees who have put their reputations on the line to fight the pandemic and contributed to the success of agency missions.”

The cancellation, which was first reported by Business Insider, would not be the first instance of the Presidential Rank Awards being suspended. President Barack Obama canceled the 2013 awards due to budget sequestration that year, but did offer non-monetary awards in their place.

“The continued exemplary efforts of the federal workforce are not going unnoticed. Federal employees are today serving fellow citizens in need, many of whom have suffered financially or faced unemployment,” the spokesperson said. “OPM joins the administration in continuing to salute the extraordinary efforts being made during these unprecedented times.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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