Award season comes a few months late for top federal employees

By Federal Diary
Friday, May 7, 2010; B03

With all the awards given to federal employees this week, it's as if a confused Santa made a springtime drop down Uncle Sam's chimney to pick out workers who have been particularly good.

Service to America Medal finalists were cited during a breakfast program on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. On Thursday evening, those chosen for the 2009 "Distinguished Executive" and "Distinguished Professional" presidential ranks were honored at a black-tie banquet at the State Department.

The announcement of Service to America Medal nominees was long planned for Public Service Recognition Week, which is this week, but the distinguished executives and professionals generally are announced in the fall. That didn't happen last year, so now the 2009 "distinguished" winners are being heralded five months into the next year.

The Office of Personnel Management, which administers the awards for the president, did not explain why they were announced so long after the winners were determined.

But if "better late than never" was ever true, it's true now -- these winners deserve this recognition.

A total of 84 winners were feted, according to the Senior Executives Association (SEA), which organized the banquet. That number represents 1 percent of the top civil servants in the Senior Executive Service and equivalent ranks in scientific, professional and intelligence community positions.

"I wish that every federal government employee could be thanked for his or her efforts," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her banquet keynote address. "But tonight we are here to thank those who have made the most exceptional contributions. . . . It is truly an elite distinction."

The awards carry more than honor -- they come with significant bucks. The top winners get a bonus worth 35 percent of their salaries. An additional 5 percent of the senior leaders are eligible for a "meritorious" honor, which comes with awards worth 20 percent of their salaries. Pay for senior executives ranges from $145,700 to $199,700, meaning the awards can range from $29,140 to $69,895.

But before some folks start fuming about the monetary awards during these tight times, consider the money the winners saved the government.

"Their accomplishments are inevitably awe-inspiring, and you will be stunned to learn not only what they have accomplished but that the savings and cost avoidance documented in their nominations total over $49 billion. Let me repeat that, $49 billion," Carol Bonosaro, president of the SEA, said in prepared remarks.

Sounds like a fair trade-off to me.

There's not enough space to go into details about all the winners, so here is a little information from the SEA about the accomplishments of a few:

-- Gail T. Lovelace, the chief people officer at the General Services Administration, reassigned more than 250 employees and reduced costs by $2 million.

-- Glen W. Grippen, director of the veterans service network at the Department of Veterans Affairs, saved $10.9 million in the agency's pharmacy benefits program and through contracting and purchasing changes.

-- John R. Swales III, assistant commissioner of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Public Debt, saved $38 million by consolidating Federal Reserve securities operations and through other actions including steps to end the reliance on the sale of paper savings bonds.

-- William J. Carr, a deputy undersecretary of defense, led changes in the department's housing and family-support practices and other changes related to Air Force pilot staffing that together will result in savings of $48 million annually.

-- Pasquale Tamburrino Jr., an assistant deputy chief of naval operations, saved $8 billion in part through improvements in something called "fleet and shore readiness output requirements." He also is credited with saving lots of money in several other areas, including $1.3 billion in submarine combat systems.

-- Larry Stubblefield, deputy administrative assistant to the Army secretary, led a project to centralize Army messaging operations, saving $20 million annually. He also found savings in contracting and by implementing recommendations in an organizational study.

Clinton said the banquet was "a small token of this administration's appreciation for your work."

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