Over 200 members of the Senior Executive Service this year will receive Presidential Rank Awards, considered the highest honor for career civil servants.
President Joe Biden picked 233 winners across a total of 33 different agencies for the 2022 awards program, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Nov. 15.
“Each and every day, our federal employees are working to address the nation’s most pressing issues, developing technologies to improve millions of lives, and ultimately, achieving the seemingly unachievable on behalf of the American public,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a press statement. “This year’s Presidential Rank Awards reflect the Biden-Harris administration’s support for hardworking civil servants who exemplify strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to public service through their exceptional leadership, contributions and accomplishments.”
The Presidential Rank Awards started in 1978 under the Civil Service Reform Act as a way to recognize outstanding career senior leaders in the federal workforce. It’s the premier award for federal leaders.
There are two categories of awards in the program. Just 1% of SES members earn a Distinguished Rank Award in any given year, while 5% of senior federal leaders are eligible for a Meritorious Rank Award. Awardees traditionally receive a cash bonus, the size of which depends on the type of award. The Distinguished Rank Award and Meritorious Rank Award offer 35% and 20%, respectively, of the recipient’s salary.
Similar to previous years, the winners for 2022 come from a wide range of agencies and mission areas. They include an Agriculture Department employee who established a distribution program for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an Energy Department employee who led work on transitioning to heightened use of high efficiency, zero-emissions electric vehicles. An employee from NASA also received an award this year for work that directly contributed to the mission success of the James Webb Space Telescope.
OPM is tasked with overseeing the awards program. The agency develops the criteria for agencies to pick their nominees, determines program eligibility and conducts review board meetings to evaluate the nominees. The 2022 PRA marked the second year in a row that OPM conducted the process entirely virtually — agencies nominated employees electronically, and OPM held the panel reviews virtually.
“Given the virtual nature of this year’s selection process, OPM was able to expand participation by selecting 100 review-panel members who reside around the world. Virtual participation made it possible to have a broad representation of backgrounds and experiences on the review panels,” OPM said in a press statement.
After the panel members review all the PRA nominees, the OPM director recommends a list of finalists to the president. The president then makes the final selections from that list to receive the award.
This year also marks the second year of the awards program’s return, following a one-year hiatus. Former President Donald Trump canceled the awards in 2020, pointing to economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t the first time a president paused the program, though — the Obama administration also canceled the awards starting in 2013 due to budget constraints, but later revived them in 2015.
“Last year, we were thrilled that the Office of Personnel Management brought back the Presidential Rank Awards,” White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain said in a press statement. “The President believes strongly in highlighting the accomplishments of federal civil servants and supporting our federal workforce. We look forward to recognizing a new group of distinguished individuals in the career service who consistently produce high quality work and demonstrate an unyielding commitment to public service.”
The Senior Executives Association applauded the group of awards recipients. Marcus Hill, SEA’s vice chair for the board of directors, urged Biden to meet with the winners personally to hear about their experiences.
“Shining a light on the positive impact of career senior executives ensures the American people know the hard work that goes into guaranteeing equal access to government services, and that the government is responsive to the needs of the nation. At the end of the day, senior executives don’t do their job for the pay or the recognition, they do it for the American people,” Hill said in a statement. “These leaders have done incredible work through various constraints and, for many, with limited resources. Their ability to work through these conditions can be a model for what government can achieve when career leadership excellence is valued.”