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OPM reverses decision to end quality awards program

After a last-minute debate Tuesday, the Bush administration decided to continue the President's Quality Awards program, at least through this year. A decision on the future of the awards program beyond 2001 is pending. On Tuesday afternoon, the Office of Personnel Management sent an e-mail message saying the awards program would be cancelled because officials believed it was no longer necessary. But within a few hours, OPM did an about-face and decided it wasn't a good idea to cancel the awards after all. The first e-mail message, sent at about 3:00 p.m. from OPM's Eastern Management Development Center, said "the emphasis on and efforts dedicated to the President's Quality Award Program have been diminishing over the last several years, beginning with the closure of the Federal Quality Institute in 1996 and then in 1998 when the Annual Conference on Federal Quality was discontinued. It should also be remembered that, for the last two years, there has not been a winner at the presidential level." But OPM officials made a last-minute decision to continue the awards after being informed of the amount of time agencies have already put in on this year's applications. The decision-makers involved "were not aware of the amount of work and commitment made by agencies to the process. Once that was realized, and almost immediately after that, they decided it would be not be prudent to end [the awards program]," an OPM spokesman said. This year's applications are in the final stages of judging. OPM manages the President's Quality Awards program, which honors agencies for efficiency, productivity and cost-effective management. The program is based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which is presented annually to high-performing private sector businesses. Quality award applicants are reviewed in a three-phase process: a written application review, an on-site visit and a final evaluation by a panel of judges. Bush administration officials will review the President's Quality Awards program to determine if it should be continued in coming years.

"As part of next year's program review, OPM is considering new approaches to recognize quality achievements, particularly those that focus on new uses of technology, consistent with the Bush administration's management priorities," OPM said.