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Personnel Management Manual: Part 1, Chapter 9: Awards and Employee Recognition, Section 1: General
Classification Code Date
M3000.1B June 28, 1996  


  1. Purpose
  2. References
  3. Objective
  4. Definitions
  5. Approval Authority
  6. Nominating Criteria
  7. Factors to Consider in Granting Quality Step Increases
  8. Factors to Consider in Granting Cash Awards for Special Acts
  9. Factors to Consider when Granting Time-off Awards for Special Acts
  10. Factors to Consider When Granting On-the-Spot Awards
  11. Factors to Consider When Granting Honor Awards
  12. Factors to Consider When Developing Inventive Incentive Programs
  13. Procedures for Granting Awards
  14. Awards to Members of Other Organizations
  15. Death or Separation of an Employee
  16. Communication to Employees
  1. PURPOSE. To provide guidelines, standards, and procedures for the use of all incentive awards, except suggestions, in recognizing employee accomplishments, contributions, and efforts within the Federal Highway Administration.


    Departmental Personnel Manual, Chapter 451

    Title 5, United States Code, Sections 4501 - 4507 and 5407, and

    Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, Parts 451 and 31.

  3. OBJECTIVE. FHWA recognizes that awards can be an effective tool to improve operations, increase productivity, achieve the agency's quality goals and initiatives, and improve service to the public. There are many ways to acknowledge an employee accomplishment or effort. Letters of appreciation, or a verbal thank you given to an employee in the presence of peers are equally effective methods of recognizing employee efforts. The important point is to take the time to do it. Employees need to know that their special efforts are appreciated.


    AWARD - Something bestowed or 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 Government or is otherwise in the public interest. Awards can take the form of cash, honor, inventive incentive, or time off without charge to leave or loss of pay and can be given to an employee as an individual or as a member of a group.

    Within FHWA, an employee can receive:

    PERFORMANCE AWARD - A lump-sum cash payment granted to an individual employee based on his or her annual performance rating. See Section 3 of this chapter.

    QUALITY STEP INCREASE (QSI) - a within grade salary increase granted to a GS employee who displays continuing outstanding performance. QSI's are in addition to regular within-grade increases.

    CASH AWARD FOR SPECIAL ACT OR SERVICE - a one time lump-sum cash payment for a non-recurring contribution either within or outside of job responsibilities; a scientific achievement; or an act of heroism. The contribution provides tangible or intangible benefits to the federal government.

    SUGGESTION AWARD - an award granted in recognition of a suggestion or a proposed solution to a problem designed to save money, manpower, materials, equipment, or supplies; or which contributes directly to the productivity, economy efficiency, or effectiveness of carrying out a program or mission of the Federal Government. For additional information, see the Employee Suggestion Program brochure and the Suggestion Evaluator's Manual.

    HONOR AWARD - an award granted in recognition of sustained high level achievement or in recognition of continued Federal service.

    INVENTIVE INCENTIVE - an item of an honorary nature which can be worn or displayed and can be given by employees through their supervisors to other employees in the organization.

    TIME-OFF AWARD - an excused absence granted to an employee in recognition of a special act or service or other personal effort that contributes to the quality, efficiency, or economy of the agency's operations.

    TEAM ACHIEVEMENT AWARD - an award given to a group of employees from various units within FHWA.


    1. The Office of the Secretary:

      Approves all monetary awards for Schedule C employees and employees in the Senior Executive Service. Concurs in all award recommendations of $10,000 up to $25,000. These recommendations will be forwarded to OST for concurrence prior to forwarding to the Office of Personnel Management for approval.

    2. The Office of the Administrator:

      Approves all Team Achievement Awards, Individual or Group/Team Awards between $9,500 and $10,000. Recommends to the Secretary the approval of any award for an SES employee or concurrence in any award in excess of $10,000.

    3. Unit Managers:

      Approve all group/team awards up to $9,500, or individual awards up to $4,000.

      Approve all Time-Off awards. NOTE: An employee may not receive more than 40 hours in one Time-Off Award and no more than a total of 80 hours in Time-Off Awards in one calendar year.

      These authorities may be redelegated by the Unit Managers to appropriate Incentive Award Pool Managers. However, each Unit Manager must ensure that appropriate financial controls are in place.

    4. First Level Supervisors:

      Approve On-the-Spot Awards. The maximum monetary amount of a cash On-the-Spot Award is $200. These may be given in increments of $50. An employee can receive no more than two cash On-the-Spot Awards in a year. The maximum for a Time-Off On-the-Spot Award is the equivalent of one work day.

    NOTE: On-the-Spot Awards may be a combination of Time-Off and money. However, the combination must not have a prorated value which exceeds one workday or $200. e.g. An employee can receive a time-off award of $100 and a half day of time-off.

  6. NOMINATING CRITERIA. Nominating criteria for each of these awards are included in the following charts at the end of this chapter:

      Chart 1: Secretary's Honor Awards
      Chart 2: FHWA Administrator's Honor Awards
      Chart 3: Awards for Special Acts or Service
      Chart 4: Other Special FHWA Awards

  7. FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN GRANTING QUALITY STEP INCREASES. Quality Step Increases (QSI) are meant to recognize outstanding performance with faster than usual within grade increases. Because QSIs are permanent increases to base pay and can be an addition to any performance award an employee receives, managers are reminded that the justification for the QSI 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.


    1. A cash award for a special act should be based on the tangible and intangible benefits the agency realizes from the contribution and on whether the contribution is within or outside of the requirements of the position.

    2. Recommendations for cash awards for special acts may be made at any time, however, in order to quickly recognize employee contributions, we recommend that the nomination be submitted no later than 3 months after the completion of the act.

    3. Employees can receive any number of cash awards for special acts, providing each award is for a separate act.

    4. 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 or significance of the contribution to the organization;

        (2) the amount of independent thought or unusual insight, imagination or effort involved;

        (3) the impact or benefits derived from the contribution; and

        (4) any other forms of compensation the employee may receive, such as a performance award.

    5. When a contribution is within job requirements, the award amount should be reduced significantly from what the award would have been had the contribution been clearly outside of job responsibilities, in recognition of the fact that the employee has already been compensated in part for the contribution through the normal salary process.

    6. The following criteria are offered to assist in measuring the contribution against normal job responsibilities:

        (1) is the contribution creative?

        (2) is the contribution unusual for the grade level?

        (3) does the contribution represent a new concept or an innovation with significant benefits?

        (4) does the employee or the team have the authority to put the contribution into effect?

        (5) is the contribution beneficial to other agencies?

    7. 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 amount should be reduced. Tangible benefits can be calculated or estimated when contributions:

        (1) conserve staffing resources, material, 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 Government Amount of Award
      Up to $10,000 10% of estimated benefits
      $10,000 - $100,000 $1,000 for the first $10,000 plus 3% of estimated benefits over $10,000.
      $100,001 or more $3,700 for the first $100,000 plus .5% of estimated benefits over $100,000.

    8. Intangible Benefits - When benefits cannot be measured, the award must be based on an assessment of the intangible benefits to the agency such as contributions:

        (1) which improve the state of the art in engineering or science or;

        (2) which provide a service to the public.

    9. Awards based on contributions with intangible benefits will be comparable as far as practicable 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 government. Normally, award amounts will be based on the estimated first year benefits to the FHWA. However, where a phase in period occurs, the average annual savings over a three year period may be used.


    1. Time off from duty as an incentive 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 tour of 32 hours a week may receive up to 64 hours in a leave year, with a single award maximum of 32 hours.

    2. Time-Off and cash awards may be combined to recognize an employee accomplishment or effort. For equivalency purposes, $25.00 will equate to one hour of time-off-from-duty.

    3. Time-Off granted must be used within one year of the 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 period, sick leave may be substituted for the period of incapacitation and the award time rescheduled.

    4. Managers are reminded to carefully consider the employee's circumstances when making a decision concerning whether to give a time-off or a cash award. Some employees who are just starting to work may appreciate the time off because it will help them to build up their leave balances. Whereas an employee with a number of years of service who has had the time to build up their leave may appreciate a cash special act award.


    1. An On-the-Spot Award is meant to recognize a small individual employee achievement. It cannot be used to recognize group or team achievements. If a team of employees work on a project and their individual contributions are worthy of a small cash or time-off award, remember that although the money for each employee may be small, the award is meant to recognize the team's accomplishment and should be documented as such.

    2. On-the-Spot Awards require a minimum of documentation and may be approved by the first level supervisor. Employees can receive no more than two cash On-the-Spot Awards in a year. However, the number of Time-Off On-the-Spot Awards is only limited by the total number of hours that can be given in a year.


    1. Honor awards within the Department of Transportation are meant either to recognize long term contributions to agency initiatives or an exceptionally outstanding contribution with national or international scope.

    2. Honor awards should not be used for retirement recognition.


    1. Inventive Incentives are items of an honorary nature which can be worn or displayed by the employee. It is desirable that the item bear the organization's logo or an appropriate slogan.

    2. Unit Managers are authorized to establish inventive incentive programs which will suit the special circumstances of the organization. This authority should be redelegated to the lowest practical level. Managers should actively encourage employee input in developing inventive incentive programs. In order to ensure long term employee interest in the program,managers should continually develop new and different recognition items.

    3. Each organization will have the responsibility for developing, naming and coordinating its own inventive incentive program.

    4. Managers and supervisors are encouraged to make public presentations of inventive incentives. Funding for inventive incentives shall be paid from the funds available to the organization approving the award.


    1. Cash and Time-Off Special Act Awards

        (1) Award recommendations should be initiated by the first level supervisor on FHWA-1156, Recommendation for Quality Step Increase, Special Act or Honor Award. Recommendations should be submitted through appropriate channels to the approving official. The following award recommendations should be submitted to the Director, Office of Personnel and Training for appropriate action:

          (a) award recommendations in excess of $9,500;

          (b) cross organizational line team award recommendations; or

          (c) award recommendations for SES employees.

        (2) Approving officials should review each recommendation to ensure that the justification:

          (a) highlights the importance of the contribution to the organization;

          (b) explains if the accomplishment or effort is within or outside of job requirements;

          (c) fully discusses the level of effort expended (any difficulties or problems that had to be overcome; and

          (d) fully supports the recommended award amount.

        (3) If an approving official has a question about the appropriateness of an award recommendation, the servicing personnel officer is available to provide advice and assistance.

        (4) Approved copies of the FHWA-1156 should be forwarded to the appropriate servicing personnel office for processing. The employee will receive an SF-50 documenting the award.

        (5) On-the-Spot Awards can be approved by the first level supervisor on an FHWA-1156 or in a memorandum. The documentation procedure used, (i.e. form FHWA-1156 or memorandum), must provide an explanation of the accomplishment being recognized.

    2. Quality Step Increases - Recommendations for Quality Step Increases should be documented on FHWA-1156, Request for Quality Step Increase, Cash or Honor Award. 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 a QSI. However, supervisors are reminded that the justification for the QSI must support the conclusion that this high level of performance will continue into the future.


    1. Cash awards will be paid from the funds available to the activity primarily benefitting from the contribution. If an organization elects to give a cash award to an employee of another organization, it must ensure that the supervisor of the employee is aware of the award prior to its submission to the personnel office for processing.

    2. If the employee recommended for the award works for another Federal agency, the approving official must work with the servicing personnel office to assure the transfer of funds to that organization.

    3. The granting of Time-Off Awards to employees of other organizations is not recommended. The prior approval of the organization where the employee works, must be obtained in order to grant a Time-Off Award. The reason for this control is to prevent scheduling conflicts, issues and related problems.


    A cash award for a special act may be granted notwithstanding death or separation from the Federal service of an employee, provided the effort for which the award is proposed was made or performed while the person was an employee of the FHWA. (The award will be paid to the surviving member of the family.) QSI's or Time-Off Awards cannot be made in these situations.


    The documentation in support of an award recommendation is privileged information, made available only to those involved in the decision making process and certain officials on a need-to-know basis. As a general rule, nominating officials should not discuss an award with nominees until the award has been approved. Immediately after the award has been approved, the supervisor should publicly present the award at an appropriate ceremony, attended by supervisors and peers. The presentation should include a brief statement of specific reasons why the employee's contribution merited recognition, including its impact on the organization.

Page last modified on May 21, 2013
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