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Presidential Rank Award Winners Announced After a Year’s Hiatus  

This year there are 230 winners from 37 agencies. 

The White House announced on Tuesday the winners of its prestigious awards for the career civil service, which include monetary prizes, after they were canceled last year. 

The Presidential Rank Awards, first established by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, go to career federal employees for their extraordinary work. This year there are 230 winners from 37 agencies who are all members of the Senior Executive Service, Senior-Level and Scientific and Professional corps. This is up from 141 winners in 2019 and 131 in 2018. 

“The resumption of the Presidential Rank Awards reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to support the federal workforce and recognize federal employees who serve with distinction,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, which runs the program. “The federal workforce is in the business of achieving the unachievable–from curing disease, to combating climate change, to landing rovers on the surface of Mars. I am pleased to be lifting up hard-working individuals who consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to public service.”

The winners are from the following categories: distinguished executive winners; meritorious executive winners; distinguished senior professional winners; and meritorious senior professional winners. 

Distinguished rank recipients “are recognized for sustained extraordinary accomplishment, and receive a cash award of 35% of their base salary. Only 1% of the career [Senior Executive Service or Senior-Level/Scientific-Professional corps] may receive this rank,” says OPM’s website. The meritorious rank recipients “are recognized for sustained accomplishment, and receive a cash award of 20% of their base salary. No more than 5% of career [Senior Executive Service or Senior-Level/Scientific-Professional] members may receive this award.”

One of this year’s winners includes a Homeland Security Department official who was “instrumental” in building TSA PreCheck, a passenger screening system now used by over 10 million travelers, Ahuja said. Another is a member of the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Inspector General “who helped developed a robust network of public and private health care program integrity partners to ensure the most effective approach to preventing, detecting and prosecuting fraud, resulting in thousands of criminal and civil actions over the past five years, as well as over $19 billion in fines, penalties, and restitutions while also preventing harm to program beneficiaries.” Seven of the 230 (3%) winners are from inspectors general offices, up from 2% in 2019. 

OPM develops the criteria for agencies to use, then holds meetings of the Presidential Rank Awards review boards to evaluate the nominees. Next, the OPM director makes recommendations of the finalists to the president who ultimately selects who receives the awards. This year the awards program was conducted virtually for the first time, and as a result of this OPM was able to expand participation in the review panels beyond the Washington, D.C., region.

Bob Corsi, president of the Senior Executives Association, told Government Executive “it’s outstanding” that the Biden administration has brought back these awards. “The number of 230, based on what I understand, is probably the highest number that we have had in many, many years to recognize the outstanding executives.” 

Government Executive reported in June 2020 that the Trump administration canceled the awards for 2020 in order to focus on agencies’ “critical missions” and economic recession due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

In 2013, President Obama canceled the awards as agencies had to tighten their budgets due to governmentwide sequestration, but then he brought them back in 2014.