- Briefing Room
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
FHWA Order 3451.1
|Awards and Employee Recognition|
|Classification Code||Date||Office of Primary Interest|
|3451.1||June 25, 2010||HAHR-10|
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What is the purpose of this Order? This section provides guidelines, standards, and procedures related to all awards in recognizing employee performance and special accomplishments, contributions, and efforts within the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Does this Order cancel an existing FHWA directive? Yes. This Order cancels FHWA Personnel Management Manual (PMM), Order 3000.1C, Part 1, Chapter 9, Section 1, and attachments 1 through 4, dated February 10, 2006.
What are the authorities governing this Order?
Title 5, United States Code, Chapters 43, 45, 53 and 55.
Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 293, 430, 451 and 531.
Departmental Personnel Manual Chapter 451, dated December 29, 2003.
What is an award? An award is an action taken to recognize and reward individual or team achievement that contributes to meeting organizational goals or improving the efficiency, effectiveness, and economy of the Federal government or is otherwise in the public interest. Awards can be made in the form of cash, honor, or time-off without charge to leave or loss of pay. Awards can be given to an employee as an individual or as a member of a group.
What is the objective of FHWA's Awards and Recognition Program? The FHWA recognizes that awards can be an effective tool to improve operations, increase productivity, achieve FHWA's quality goals and initiatives, and improve service to the public. There are many ways to acknowledge an employee's accomplishment or effort. A letter of appreciation or a verbal “thank you” given to an employee in the presence of peers are equally effective methods of recognizing employee efforts. Managers and supervisors are encouraged to recognize the contributions of their employees. Employees need to know that their special efforts and hard work are appreciated.
What types of awards can FHWA employees receive? FHWA employees are eligible to receive a number of different types of awards. They include:
Quality Step Increase (QSI) is a within grade salary increase granted to a General Schedule (GS) employee to provide appropriate incentive and recognition for excellence in performance resulting in an outstanding performance rating. QSIs are granted in addition to regular within grade salary increases.
Special Achievement Award (SAA) for a Special Act or Service is a one-time award that can be granted to a GS or Wage Grade employee for a non-recurring contribution either within or outside of job responsibilities, a scientific achievement, or an act of heroism. This award can consist of cash and/or time-off from work. An On-the-Spot Award is a SAA for a Special Act that is meant to immediately recognize an individual accomplishment or contribution (see paragraph 15) of a smaller scope than overall performance.
SAA based on performance is a one-time award granted to a Performance Management System (PMS) employee who receives a rating of either “Outstanding” or “Meets or Exceeds Requirements,” or for sustained superior achievements in accomplishing performance objectives of the position, as documented in the performance plan, for at least the minimum rating period of 90 days. This award can consist of cash and/or time-off from work.
Time-Off Award is an absence granted to an employee without charge to leave in recognition of performance of duties in an exceptional manner, or a special act, service, or other personal effort that contributes to the quality, efficiency, or economy of FHWA's operations.
Suggestion Award is an award granted in recognition of a formal suggestion or a proposed solution to a problem that will save money, manpower, materials, equipment, or supplies or that contributes directly to the productivity, economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of carrying out a program or mission of the Federal government. (See PMM Part 1, Chapter 9, Section 2 for more information about Suggestion Awards.)
Honor Award is a non-monetary award granted in recognition of sustained high-level achievement or in recognition of continued Federal service.
Inventive Incentive Award refers to honorary recognition that can be given by employees through their supervisors to other employees in the organization.
Team Achievement Award is a SAA granted by the Office of the Administrator to a group of employees from various organizations within FHWA who have worked together to accomplish a project or task that is worthy of high-level recognition.
What types of awards can non-FHWA employees and partners receive from FHWA? Non-FHWA employees and partners are eligible to receive the Strive for Excellence Award (see Chart 2), the Partnership in Excellence Award (see Chart 2), and the Public Service Award (see Chart 4).
How are SAAs funded?
Funds for awards to be paid in a given fiscal year shall be computed for each organization based on the PMS employee population payroll in effect on September 30, which is the last day of the rating period (as well as the last day of the previous fiscal year).
At a minimum, there will be individual award pools within the FHWA for the Office of the Administrator, each Associate Administrator, the Chief Counsel, Chief Financial Officer, each Director of Field Services, the Resource Center Director and Operations Manager, and each Division Administrator. Within these organizations, unit managers may assign the management of award pools, and they may officially define award pools at lower organizational levels.
Each organization will report its official award pool designations to the Office of Human Resources on August 31 each year, so that performance award funds for the following fiscal year may be computed and pools may be documented as required. Performance awards funds computed for one organization will not be transferred to another.
Each award pool will be funded at no more than 1.4 percent of the estimated amount of covered PMS employees' basic pay for the fiscal year. Each award pool may be funded at a percentage lower than 1.4 percent in order to meet any limitations established by the Office of the Secretary (OST) or the OPM for the funding of general pay increases, within-grade increases, and performance awards. Other funding limitations may be set by the DOT Appropriations Act. The same funding percentage will be applied to all pools within FHWA in a given fiscal year.
Who has approval authority for the various types of awards, and what are the monetary award amounts?
The OST (1) approves all monetary awards for Schedule C employees and employees in the Senior Executive Service (SES), (2) approves all award recommendations from $10,000 to $25,000, and (3) concurs in all awards from $25,000 to $35,000. Recommendations from $25,000 to $35,000 will be forwarded to OST for concurrence prior to forwarding to OPM for review and, if concurred in by OPM, they are submitted to the President for approval.
The Office of the FHWA Administrator approves all Team Achievement Awards, individual awards in excess of $4,000, and Group/Team Awards in excess of $9,500, and recommends to the Secretary the approval of an award for an SES employee, a Schedule C employee, or an award for any employee that is in excess of $10,000.
Award Pool Managers approve: (1) all group/team awards up to $9,500 and individual awards up to $4,000; (2) performance rating-based awards not to exceed 10 percent of the employee's annual rate of basic pay, upon the recommendation of the supervisor; and (3) all Time-Off Awards. These authorities may be re-delegated; however, the Award Pool Manager must ensure that appropriate financial controls are in place.
First Level Supervisors can approve On-the-Spot Awards. The maximum monetary amount of a cash On-the-Spot Award is $300. These awards may be granted in increments of $50. An employee can receive no more than two cash On-the-Spot Awards in the same year. The maximum for a Time-Off On-the-Spot Award is the equivalent of one workday. On-the-Spot Awards may be a combination of time-off and cash. However, the combination is limited to maximum of one-half a workday for time off and $150 for cash.
What are the criteria for approval? Information concerning criteria for each of these awards is included in the following charts at the end of this Order:
Chart 1: Secretary's Honor Awards
Chart 2: Administrator's Honor Awards
Chart 3: Special Achievement Awards
Chart 4: Other Special FHWA Awards
What factors must be considered in making a decision on granting a QSI?
The QSIs are meant to recognize outstanding performance at a faster pace than the usual within grade increases. Because QSIs are permanent increases to base pay and can be granted in addition to any Special Achievement Award that an employee receives, managers are reminded that the QSI justification must support the conclusion that the highest quality of work is characteristic of the employee's performance and is expected to last into the future.
The recommendation to grant a QSI must be supported by the employee's most recent appraisal, or when the appraisal is more than 60 days old, by a supplemental written statement explaining the reasons for granting the increase.
What factors must be considered in granting SAAs based on Special Acts or Services?
SAA for a special act should be based on tangible and/or intangible benefits FHWA realizes from the contribution and on whether the contribution is within or outside of the requirements of the position.
Recommendations for SAAs for special acts may be submitted at any time. However, experience has shown that employees most appreciate the award when it is given shortly after the contribution has been made. Nominations should be submitted within 3 months after completion of the act.
Employees can receive any number of SAAs, provided that each award is for a separate act or contribution.
In determining if an employee's contribution is so superior or meritorious that it warrants special recognition with an award, a supervisor must consider:
(1) the importance of the contribution to the organization;
(2) the amount of independent thought, unusual insight, imagination, or effort involved;
(3) the impact or benefit derived from the contribution; and
(4) any other forms of compensation the employee may receive.
Tangible Benefits. Every effort should be made to determine tangible benefits resulting from employee contributions. If the contributions with tangible benefits are not outside of job responsibilities, the award should be reduced. Tangible benefits can be calculated or estimated when contributions:
(1) conserve staffing resources, materials, time or space;
(2) eliminate unnecessary processes; or
(3) improve existing methods.
The following chart should be used as guidance in determining cash awards based on contributions with tangible benefits.
Estimated First Year Benefits to the Government
Amount of Award
Up to $10,000
10% of estimated benefits
$10,000 to $100,000
$1,000 for the first $10,000 plus
$100,001 or more
$3,700 for the first $100,000 plus
Intangible Benefits. When benefits cannot be measured, the award must be based on an assessment of the intangible benefits to the FHWA such as contributions:
(1) which improve the state-of-the-art in engineering or sciences; or
(2) which provide a service to the public.
Awards based on contributions with intangible benefits will be comparable as much as possible with awards based on tangible benefits. When an award is based on a contribution with both tangible and intangible benefits, the amount of the award is based on the total value of the contribution to the Federal government. Normally, award amounts will be based on estimated first year benefits to the FHWA. However, where a phase-in period occurs, the average annual savings over a 3-year period may be used.
What factors must be considered when granting SAAs based on performance?
After the PMS employees in an award pool have been assigned a rating of record for the PMS appraisal period, a determination may be made as to their eligibility for a performance award. The following PMS employees will not be eligible for Performance Awards:
(1) employees receiving a rating of “Fails to Meet Requirements;”
(2) employees not occupying a PMS position on September 30, the end of the PMS rating period; employees on leave-without-pay (LWOP) or in a non-pay status during the rating year and who were not in a pay status for at least the minimum 90 day appraisal period;
(3) employees newly appointed to the Federal government within 90 days of the end of the appraisal period; and
(4) employees who for any other reason could not be rated under the PMS performance appraisal system.
All eligible PMS employees receiving a current rating of record of either “Outstanding” or “Meets or Exceeds Requirements” may be granted a SAA based on performance. The supervisor and the pool manager will determine award amounts based upon individual performance. The determination will be based upon: (1) the supervisor's assessment of the value of the employee's work accomplishments during the rating year, relative to the goals of the organization; (2) the grade level of the position; (3) the impact on mission accomplishment; and (4) the relative contribution of other employees. There is no entitlement to a performance award regardless of the rating of record.
A performance based SAA may be given immediately after the performance appraisal period or throughout the year as long as the employee has a rating of record in the system and 90 days of performance on which the award can be based.
Performance awards granted during the year must be based on at least 3 months of performance.
Under certain circumstances, Award Pool Managers may set aside a portion of the award budget for the unit to recognize team performance. This provision may be used when the unit is formally organized in teams, the work is structured in an interdependent fashion, and the team evaluation features of the performance appraisal system are used. The use of team performance awards is limited to units and employees who identify team performance objectives in their performance plans, and they are rated against the team rating factors on the appraisal form. The set-aside provision should be limited to that portion of the award pool computed from covered salaries of employees actually eligible for team performance awards. Within that sub pool, the set-aside percentage should be determined, subject to the approval of the Award Pool Manager, based upon the relative importance and preponderance of team versus individual performance objectives.
(1) Any organization planning to use this team performance award provision should develop and coordinate with the Office of Human Resources (HAHR-10) a plan for approving and distributing Team Performance Awards. The plan should ideally be implemented and communicated to affected employees at the beginning of the rating period, but no later than 90 days prior to the end of the appraisal period.
(2) The use of this provision is optional, and it is not required under any circumstances, regardless of how the unit is organized or the work is structured.
What factors must be considered when granting Time-Off Awards?
A Time-Off Award may be authorized for full-time employees in installments of up to 40 hours for a single award, with a maximum of 80 hours awarded in a given leave year. Awards for part-time employees may be granted on a pro-rata basis, with a single award of no more than the number of hours worked during an average work week, and an annual maximum that does not exceed the number of hours normally worked during a biweekly pay period. For example, an employee with a part-time work schedule of 32 hours a week may receive a single Time-Off Award maximum of 32 hours and a total of 64 hours in Time-Off Awards during a leave year.
Time-Off and Special Achievement Awards may be combined to recognize an employee accomplishment, effort, or performance. To determine the dollar value of a time-off award, multiply the employee's regular hourly rate of pay times the number of hours granted.
Time-Off granted must be used within 1 year following the effective date of the award. Time-Off Awards do not convert to cash under any circumstances. Any Time-Off Award not used will be lost. When physical incapacitation for duty occurs during the Time-Off Award period, sick leave may be substituted for the period of incapacitation and the award time rescheduled.
Managers are reminded to carefully consider the employee's circumstances when making a decision concerning whether to grant a Time-Off or monetary SAA. Some employees who are beginning their careers may prefer the time-off because it will help them to build up their leave balances. An employee with a number of years of service who has accrued significant leave may prefer the monetary award.
What factors must be considered when granting On-the-Spot Awards?
An On-the-Spot Award is meant to provide recognition for an individual accomplishment or contribution that is on a smaller scale than overall performance. It cannot be used to recognize group or team contributions. If a team of employees works on a project and their individual contributions are worthy of a small monetary or Time-Off Award, the award should be documented as a team award to recognize the team's accomplishments.
On-the-Spot Awards require minimum documentation and may be approved by the first level supervisor.
(1) Employees can receive no more than two cash On-the-Spot Awards during a calendar year, with a maximum of $300 per award.
(2) There is no limit on the number of Time-Off On-the-Spot Awards an employee may receive in a year. However, a single Time-Off On-the-Spot award may exceed 8 hours, and an employee may receive no more than 80 time-off hours in a leave year.
What factors must be considered when granting Honor Awards?
Honor Awards within the DOT are meant to recognize long-term contributions to FHWA initiatives or an exceptionally outstanding contribution with a national or international scope.
Honor Awards must not be used for retirement recognition.
What factors must be considered when developing Inventive Incentive Programs?
Inventive Incentives are non-monetary awards. These non-monetary awards are of an honorary nature and are frequently in the form of an item that can be worn or displayed by the employee. It is desirable that the item bear the organization's logo or an appropriate slogan. Offices may also use vouchers to restaurants or movies or tickets to sporting events as a part of their Inventive Incentive Program. However, care must be taken to ensure competition among suppliers. These awards are also called “Peer Awards.”
Leadership Team Members, Resource Center Director and Operations Manager, Division Engineers, and Division Administrators are authorized to establish Inventive Incentive Programs that will suit the special circumstances of their organizations. This authority should be redelegated to the lowest practical level. In order to ensure long term employee interest in the program, new and different recognition items should be continually identified.
Each organization will be responsible for developing, naming, and coordinating its own Inventive Incentive Program. A copy of the Inventive Incentive Program should be forwarded to the Office of Human Resources, Employee Relations and Benefits Team (HAHR-23), for informational purposes.
Managers and supervisors are encouraged to make public presentations of their Inventive Incentive Awards. Funding for Inventive Incentive Awards shall be made from the General Operating Expenses funds available to the organization approving the award.
What are the procedures for granting SAAs, Time-Off Awards, Team Achievement Awards, or QSIs?
SAAs and Time-Off Awards for special acts or for performance not based on the rating of record should be initiated by the first level supervisor on form FHWA-1156, Recommendation for Quality Step Increase, Cash or Honor Award. Recommendations should be submitted through the appropriate channels to the approving official. The following award recommendations should be submitted to the Director, Office of Human Resources (HAHR), for appropriate action:
(1) Team award recommendations in excess of $9,500;
(2) Team Achievement Award recommendations; and
(3) Award recommendations for SES and Schedule C employees.
Approving officials should review each recommendation to ensure that the justification:
(1) highlights the importance of the contribution to the organization;
(2) explains whether the accomplishment or effort is within or outside of job requirements;
(3) fully discusses the level of effort expended (any difficulties or problems that had to be overcome); and
(4) fully supports the recommended award amount.
If an approving official has a question about the validity of an award recommendation, the servicing human resources office is available to provide advice and assistance.
Signed copies of the form FHWA-1156 should be forwarded to the appropriate servicing human resources office for processing. The employee will receive a copy of the approved award recommendation and a Standard Form 50 (SF-50) documenting the award.
Recommendations for Quality Step Increases should be documented on a form FHWA-1156. A copy of the approved outstanding performance rating should be attached. The justification for the outstanding performance rating will provide much of the information needed to support the QSI. However, supervisors are reminded that the justification must support the conclusion that this high level of performance will continue into the future. Quality Step Increases must be approved by an Authorized Approving Official, and submitted to the Director of Human Resources for concurrence.
Each year the HAHR will issue a call memorandum for completed performance appraisals. At that time managers may document any cash awards based on the performance appraisal on form FHWA-1552a, Performance Award Nomination, and enter the performance award amount on the automated Performance Rating Sheet (PRS). The PRS will automatically upload the award information into the Federal Personnel and Payroll System. Further guidance on documenting SAAs based on the performance appraisal will accompany the fall memorandum.
Patricia A. Prosperi