Food for Thought OK, Says GAO

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Federal managers seeking to reward their employees for excellent work are chock full of ideas for non-monetary awards these days. There's plaques and certificates, honorary designations and good ol' pats-on-the-back. But the National Security Agency apparently thinks the best way to touch special employees' hearts is through their stomachs.

The agency wants to reward high-performing employees with meals and gift certificates to restaurants. But NSA officials weren't sure they had the legal authority to do so, so they asked the General Accounting Office for its opinion. Careful not to take such a delicate subject lightly, GAO, along with the Office of Personnel Management, scrutinized a provision of the Government Employees Incentive Awards Act that allows agencies to "incur necessary expenses for the honorary recognition of employees."

Luckily for hungry do-gooders at NSA, the GAO and OPM found not only that vittles "represent a form of informal recognition award that would not jeopardize the credibility and integrity of the federal government's incentive awards program," but that the statute also permits "agencies to use operating appropriations to pay for refreshments and meals in connection with agency employee awards ceremonies."

However, before the NSA lets the feasts begin, OPM noted that agencies "should exercise good judgment when using food both as an award and to enhance an 'award ceremony.'" So the all-you-can-eat bar at Sizzler may be OK, but a seven-course-meal at a five-star restaurant is probably a bad idea.

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