Mark Van Scyoc /

OPM Cancels Presidential Rank Awards, Citing Efforts to 'Reopen' Economy

The Trump administration in March had suspended nominations for this year’s iteration of the awards, which recognize federal executives’ contributions to public service.

The Trump administration told agencies on Monday that it had cancelled this year’s round of the annual Presidential Rank Awards, which recognize and distribute bonuses to executives across the federal government.

In an email to chief human capital officers obtained by Government Executive, John York, a senior adviser for policy at the Office of Personnel Management, announced the decision, which he said was due to the need to focus on agencies’ “critical missions” and the recent economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, OPM suspended nominations for the annual awards so that agencies could focus on COVID-19 response. The news was first reported by Business Insider.

“In view of the federal government’s ongoing mission critical efforts to reopen the U.S. economy and government offices, and recognizing the financial strain facing many Americans during this time, OPM will recommend to the White House that the [rank] awards and bonus payments not be granted to federal employees in [fiscal] 2020,” York wrote.  

In a statement Tuesday, Senior Executives Association Interim President Bob Corsi criticized the decision, arguing that as federal workers continue to serve the public during the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to acknowledge their contributions at a relatively low cost.

“The monetary bonus which comes with the award is a modest incentive for the best career leaders in the federal government, who are often paid less than their private sector counterparts, to remain in public service,” Corsi said. “For these reasons, the Presidential Rank Awards play a critical role in cultivating skilled federal leaders . . . Leaders in federal service have worked in atypical conditions for nearly five months to deliver necessary stimulus to protect the American economy, provide insight on health care advancements and the virus’ spread, and provide various essential services to the American people when they needed it most. Now more than ever, we should be recognizing the individuals who have made these heroic efforts possible.”

York sought to reassure officials that the administration recognizes their sacrifices in recent months.

“The continued exemplary efforts of the federal workforce are not going unnoticed,” he wrote. “Federal employees are today serving fellow citizens in need, many of whom have suffered financially or faced unemployment. OPM joins the administration in continuing to salute the extraordinary efforts being made during these unprecedented times.”

But Corsi said he fears that by cancelling the awards, OPM is sending the message that “our federal workforce is made of faceless bureaucrats.”

The last time that the rank awards were cancelled was in 2013, due to budgetary concerns. Over the last several budget cycles, the Trump administration has proposed lowering—or outright eliminating—across-the-board compensation increases for federal employees in favor of targeted raises and other monetary awards for top performers, although these plans never became law.

Although the awards will not be handed out this year, OPM asked agencies to submit nominations anyway, and said that candidates will remain eligible when the awards resume next year.

“Persons eligible for award in  fiscal 2020 will maintain their eligibility for the next award cycle,” York wrote. “Likewise, the agencies may amend and/or supplement the fiscal 2020 agency candidate list in advance of the next award cycle as OPM will instruct . . . To be clear, OPM is asking agencies to avoid at present both the labor of the application process and the expenditure of costs for background investigations for fiscal 2020 in keeping with [Office of Management and Budget] guidance.”

OPM did not respond to a request for comment.