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More Senior Executives Win Top Honors in 2015

Pentagon, NASA top list of Presidential Rank Award winners.

More senior executives received the government’s top award for excellence in civil service this year than in 2014, according to information released Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The Office of Personnel Management listed thirty-eight top career officials from across government as 2015 Distinguished Executives, the highest honor within the annual Presidential Rank Awards. Overall, there are more than 100 winners of the 2015 Presidential Rank Awards (which includes Distinguished and Meritorious honors for both senior executives and professionals). The agency noted that the list “was not comprehensive and only includes winners agreeing to public recognition as of Dec. 15, 2015.”

Five other career leaders received the Distinguished Senior Professional Award.

Even looking at a less than comprehensive list, the number of Distinguished Rank award winners in 2015 is higher than in 2014. Twenty-four civil servants received the 2014 Presidential Distinguished Rank Award compared to 46 recipients in 2012. There were 54 top winners in 2011, and 66 in 2010. Shrinking budgets and the spotlight on senior executive bonuses in recent years, particularly at the Veterans Affairs Department, have largely been to blame for the smaller numbers -- and the lack of publicity from the White House.

There’s a perception among some senior executives and other observers that the Obama White House has pressured federal agencies to avoid drawing attention to the annual winners of the nation’s highest award for civil service -- and the hefty bonuses they receive -- because of the sensitive fiscal and political climate. “There’s a concern that [the administration] might -- this is my impression -- that they would be in a position of having to defend why these people received such an enormous [amount] of money,” said Carol Bonosaro, president emeritus of the Senior Executives Association, in a May interview with Government Executive. “And of course, I think [the award winners] are very easy to defend given the amount of money that they save, and the kind of accomplishments that are cited in their nominations.”

That appeared to change somewhat on Tuesday. The White House held a briefing with top senior career leaders at the Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, where administration officials announced the winners and unveiled President Obama’s executive order aimed at reforming and improving the Senior Executive Service. Later on Tuesday, OPM listed the winners who agreed to be identified on the agency’s website. SEA typically holds an annual spring black-tie event for the winners at the State Department

Distinguished Rank honorees receive a monetary award equivalent to 35 percent of their annual basic pay, and Meritorious Rank recipients receive 20 percent of their rate of annual basic pay. Review boards composed of current and former public- and private-sector officials choose finalists among the nominations, who are then vetted by the OPM’s Federal Investigative Services. FIS performs background checks on federal employees and contractors.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense and the NASA boasted the most 2015 winners across the board. Linda Halliday, deputy inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department, received a Meritorius award. Over the past year, Halliday has led a number of high-profile investigations into VA activities.

Click here for the list of 2015 Presidential Rank Award winners. Click here to see the winners by agency.

(Image via Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com)