Senior Execs Press Obama on Alternative to Presidential Rank Awards

Administration canceled honors last year, promising to devise a less expensive way to recognize top federal employees.

When the Obama administration canceled the annual Presidential Rank Awards last June, it assured the press and an unhappy Senior Executive Association that it would come up with a cheaper way to honor high-achieving federal employees.

Seeing no action to date, the SEA on Monday put out a statement calling on President Obama to respond to its proposal for alternative recognition, outlined in an October letter to him and a December letter to new Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta.

“The administration is missing a superb opportunity to let the American public know the good [that] government -- and career civil servants -- have accomplished,” said SEA president Carol A. Bonosaro. “This strategic omission is especially unfortunate given the criticism the executive branch, generally, and federal employees in particular take regularly in the Congress and the media.” 

Unlike the traditional combination of publicly-funded cash awards and a banquet for recipients staged and financed by the association, the SEA’s toned-down proposal asked the administration to:

  • host a meeting with the president for all awardees, including a photo opportunity;
  • provide all rank awardees with a certificate or letter signed by the president;
  • permit OPM to publicize the names of the award winners and allow agencies to publicly recognize awardees and hold appropriate internal ceremonies; and
  • confirm that the traditional Presidential Rank Awards program will be resumed upon the end of sequestration, and assure that receipt of this year’s non-monetary awards will not preclude recipients from consideration for a monetary Presidential Rank Award upon resumption of that program.

The SEA added that it would commit to supporting this process -- to preserve continuity of more than 30 years of Presidential Rank Awards -- by having its Professional Development League raise funds to host the same type of banquet it has long hosted for the awardees at the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms. The group also invited the president to appear personally to honor the awardees.

SEA also would “be pleased to contribute to public recognition activities deemed appropriate by OPM,” the October letter stated, adding, “although SEA is on record as favoring continuation of the traditional PRA program for this year, we recognize the administration’s legitimate concerns for both budget and optics during these difficult times of sequester and financial sacrifice by all federal employees and the nation.” 

Asked for comment, OMB spokesman Frank Benenati, said, “The administration is committed to recognizing excellence in the Senior Executive Service through the Presidential Rank Awards, and we continue to work to identify non-monetary recognition for those executives recommended for a fiscal 2013 Presidential Rank Award.” Soon after the June 2013 cancellation was reported first by The Wall Street Journal, an OPM spokesperson told Government Executive the agency would continue to collect nominees for the awards and pass them along to the White House as scheduled. 

Under the longstanding arrangement, Distinguished Rank recipients receive a lump-sum payment of 35 percent of their rate of annual basic pay; Meritorious Rank recipients receive 20 percent of their rate of annual basic pay. All recipients receive a framed certificate signed by the president. 

(Image via Chatchawan/