White House Inaugurates ‘Gears of Government’ Awards for Exceptional Performance

Agencies will nominate employees who advance the mission, customer service or stewardship.

Following up on the president’s management agenda unveiled in March, the White House budget director on Tuesday announced a program to recognize federal employees for outstanding achievement—dubbed the Gears of Government Awards.

In a memo to agency heads, Mick Mulvaney invited nominations of individuals or groups whose “performance and dedication support exceptional delivery of key outcomes for the American people: mission results, customer service and accountable stewardship.”

Each agency during the year is encouraged to come up with names to submit by October, which the Office of Management and Budget, working with interagency councils and the White House, will review. The nominees could be selected for a “single ‘heroic’ act, or the results of sustained achievements,” the memo said.

The awards come in two levels. One is the Agency or Council Award (at least two but no more than 25 per agency announced in January); the other is the President’s Award (10 to 12 winners drawn from the first level awardees, announced in March or April).

There’s no cash award, but winners (and their agencies) will receive a plaque and certificate and will be invited to the White House during next May’s Public Service Recognition Week.

“Federal employees, who underpin nearly all the operations of the government and ensure the smooth functioning of our democracy, will play a pivotal role in achieving” the vision of the president’s agenda, Mulvaney said. “While most Americans will never meet the president or even their Member of Congress, they will interact with federal employees who work in their community, keep them safe at airports, or welcome them to a national park.”

Federal employees are responsible for the “gears” of government, Mulvaney said, which can determine whether operations are efficient and effective or slow and unresponsive. The three gears are information technology; data, accountability, and transparency; and the workforce, he said. The winners should also demonstrate a commitment to public service.

The 24 major agencies and interagency councils should include those employees and teams who make outstanding contributions related to the themes in cross-agency priority goals and agency priority goals. Smaller agencies have the option of participating.

The Gears of Government Awards is the successor to the Obama administration’s SAVE Awards (for the authors of efficiency ideas) and the Federal Customer Service Awards. Mulvaney’s memo supersedes one sent in 2015 by then-deputy OMB director Beth Cobert. Before Obama, there were the George W. Bush administration’s Presidential Awards for Management Excellence and the Clinton administration’s Reinventing Government “Hammer Awards.”

“Initiatives must demonstrate a tangible improvement, even if they are indirect in their impact,” the memo said. “For example, this may include improvements to services provided to internal agency customers that manifestly result in improvements for external customers. General efforts to improve operations or program effectiveness, while valuable, do not qualify for an initiative award unless their ultimate impact on improving mission, service, or stewardship outcomes can be clearly identified.”

Robert Shea, the Grant Thornton principal who worked on performance issues at OMB during the George W. Bush administration, told Government Executive he likes the Trump approach, though he thought the memo could have been shorter. Like the Bush and Obama approaches, "it is aligned with the President's Management Agenda," he said. "Recognizing public servants for the hard work they do and the significant contributions they make for the American people is one of the easiest things we can do to make government just a little better of a place to work."

Nominations should be sent to GearsofGovernmentAwards@EOP.eop.gov.

This story has been updated with reaction to the awards