White House launches ’employee of the month’-type awards for customer-focused feds

Beginning next month, agencies can begin honoring certain front-line employees through the administration's new Federal Customer Service Awards Program.

Taking a cue from “employee of the month” plaques at the local supermarket, the White House has launched its new Federal Customer Service Awards for agency employees who excel at customer service.

The program will spur agencies to deliver timely, responsive customer service, while giving a much-deserved nod to rank-and-file employees who actually do it. Americans expect the government to deliver services as well as any company, wrote Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, in a memo sent Thursday to agency leaders.

“An important component of delivering service improvements is that front-line staff feel valued in the work they do every day and see their efforts to deliver excellent service recognized and celebrated,” she said.

President Barack Obama first announced the awards program in a speech last December to Senior Executive Service members. Perhaps with those supermarket plaques in mind, the President said he was surprised that the government did not already have this type of awards program.

“When an American needs something from their government — whether an education grant, or a passport, or help turning a great idea into a small business — they’re interacting with many of you. You can make enormous differences in the lives of individual Americans every single day. We are going to honor the people who do this job best,” he said.

The White House also has fretted publicly about federal employees’ engagement on the job. The most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, released last fall, showed that dissatisfaction was growing across the workforce.

So you want to win an award? Here’s how

The new awards are for employees in 15 agencies that provide most of the services that the federal government offers to the public. They include the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Treasury but not the departments of Defense or Justice. Other agencies can adopt similar awards programs, however, according to OMB’s guidance.

In the document, the White House defines “customer” as an individual or an organization, which could include grantees. It sets the parameters for the contests but leaves the details largely up to the agencies.

“In general, agencies should provide awards to individuals who have demonstrated an understanding of customer needs and taken action to address those needs that goes above and beyond existing practices. This could be through a single ‘heroic’ act, or the results of a sustained commitment to innovation and providing excellent customer service,” the guidance said.

OMB encourages agencies to ask customers and other stakeholders to nominate federal employees for the awards. The prizes are meant to be rolling, with the first batch occurring as early as next month.

There are two types of agency awards explained in the guidance. In the individual category, agencies may honor up to 50 employees who work directly with customers. The second category is for teams of up to five people who have improved operations, leveraged technology or otherwise acted broadly to improve customer service in their organization, OMB said.

Of those award winners, a review committee will select 10 for the President’s Award, a new governmentwide prize. It comes with no money, the guidance warns. But winners might get a trophy, or at least a certificate, and they will be recognized by the White House. Agencies, on the other hand, have discretion to offer money to their awardees.

OMB has given agencies until April 20 to finalize the rules for their internal prizes. They can make the awards immediately, OMB said. This first year, winners may be selected from employees who have done those heroic acts of customer service within the past three years. After that, they will be judged based on their past year’s achievements.

Agencies will nominate two award recipients for the President’s Award by the end of July, with the winners announced around National Customer Service Week in early October, the guidance said.


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