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CDC's Award and Recognition Program

Recently CDC's award and recognition program has received coverage in the media. Stories have been written based on a Freedom of Information Act request from the media representative who asked for the names of all CDC full-time employees (including SES) who received cash awards of $2,500 or above between 2000 and July 2006. These stories have yielded press coverage and many questions.

“Equity should be one of the key components of our recognition programs. As such, we are committed to ongoing review and improvement of the CDC awards program. The CDC Executive Leadership Board recently voted to create a new standing committee to analyze the current criteria for performance awards and to make recommendations to the CDC director and HHS about strengthening the awards process and addressing any shortcomings.” Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, in a note to employees Friday, September 15,2006.

Below are a number of questions and answers about the CDC rewards program.

  1. Have awards been equitable?

    CDC has not recently conducted a trend analysis for all awards at CDC. However, while fulfilling the FOIA request, CDC determined that the number and total dollar amount of awards $2,500 or above that have been made between 2000 and July 2006, are in general proportion to the workforce composition between non-Commissioned Corps science/program and management/administrative support staff. Upon further review, over the 6 ½ years covered by the FOIA request, 56.5 percent of the cash awards were earned by science and program staff representing 57 percent of the total amount.

    And based upon a review of the list of 1,300 names released to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, awards were given at various grade or pay levels in a variety of amounts. It is clear that high-ranking managers (not in the Commissioned Corps, as they are not eligible) received higher award amounts. It is also clear that there are different approaches and budgets in different parts of the organization as to what is recommended for an award and for how much.

  2. What is being done to ensure that award recognition is equitable and not simply based on each supervisor and the money available to them?

    The CDC Executive Leadership Board recently voted to create a new standing committee to analyze the current criteria for achievement awards and to make recommendations to the CDC Director about strengthening the awards process and addressing any shortcomings. This new committee will replace the Executive Resources Board and the Performance Award Committee.

    The ELB awards committee will be co-chaired by CDC's chief financial officer Barbara Harris, and the new chief of Public Health Practice, Stephanie Bailey, who comes to the agency with many years of experience in public health at the local level. Committee members will include representatives from divisions, national centers, coordinating centers and offices, and the management council. One of the first issues for the committee is to determine a fair way for CDC to be more transparent about its awards (e.g., who is receiving them) while being respectful of individuals' desire for financial confidentiality.

    In addition, CDC will increase its educational efforts to assure a broader and more consistent understanding of the awards process, expectations, and timing.

  3. What is CDC’s justification for monetary awards to staff?

    One of the challenges for an agency like CDC, which is committed to recruiting and retaining highly accomplished leaders in their fields and quality staff in all occupations, is to compensate them as equitably as possible compared with their peers in the private sector and in academia. While unquestionably most people come to public health to first serve the public and not for compensation, in fact, pay and benefits—including awards—do impact career decisions. In a recent poll by Robert Half, an IT consulting firm, 63 percent of respondents said that, while training programs and other creative incentives are forward-thinking, it's generally the money—and respect—that gets and keeps good employees.

    It's clear that financial awards for performance provide both—money and respect. To be the "employer of choice" that CDC strives to be, the agency must constantly identify innovative ways to attract and keep outstanding employees.

  4. Are all awards approved at a central point?

    No. The approval process varies according to the amount of the award. Special Act awards between $1 and $4,999 may be approved at the National Center and Institute level. Those between $5,000 and $9,999 must be approved by the CDC Director. Awards of $10,000 or more must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services. Some categories of award nominations are subject to a panel review that weighs the merits of the nomination of an employee to ensure the work justifies recognition and the amount of award. In all cases, several agency officials are involved in the award process from nomination through review and ultimate approval.

  5. Have some people received multiple awards within a short period of time?

    Yes, and this may occur for several reasons. Award nominations should be initiated in close proximity to the accomplishment being achieved. On some occasions, an individual may be involved in multiple meritorious efforts worthy of recognition. Also, different awards can come from different funding sources and different organizational nominators that happen to coincide in timing. And, sometimes, multiple awards tend to occur toward the end of the fiscal year when managers know how much award money is available and the deadline for award submission for the fiscal year is approaching. Training planned for managers will help address these issues.

  6. Why did CDC release the names of employees and their cash award amounts to a reporter? Isn't this protected under the privacy act?

    CDC received two recent requests for information related to CDC cash-award recipients from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and US Senator Charles Grassley; both requests are related to their ongoing interest in the CDC Workforce. The Freedom of Information Act request from the media representative asked for the names of all CDC full-time employees (including SES) who received cash awards of $2,500 or above between 2000 and July 2006.

    After careful review, CDC and HHS FOIA officials determined that the list should be released based on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulation 5 CFR § 293.401 (Availability of information). It outlines employee information that is available to the public. This includes:

    1. name
    2. present and past position titles and occupation series
    3. present and past grades
    4. present and past annual salary (including performance awards or bonuses, incentive awards, merit pay amount, Meritorious or Distinguished Executive Ranks, and allowances and differentials)
    5. present and past duty stations and
    6. position descriptions

    In addition to the FOIA request, CDC received a request for similar information from Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa who is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Grassley has requested the names of all CDC employees who received a $1,000 or higher cash award from 2001 to present. As a partial response to this request, the list of names and awards provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will also be released to the Senator. In coming weeks, we will provide the Senator a complete list of all employees who received annual performance awards of $1,000 or more.

    If you would like to learn more about the FOIA, visit: http://www.hhs.gov/foia/.

  7. What is the annual amount of money given in cash awards to CDC employees? What percentage of the overall payroll is spent on cash awards?

    The amount of money allotted each year differs; however it is typically only a fraction of the CDC payroll. For example, between 2000 and July 2006, cash awards of $2,500 or more equaled about 0.2 percent. CDC leadership appreciates the value of cash awards in recognizing individual and group accomplishments. The incentive awards program is an important leadership tool and should continue to be used by supervisors to acknowledge distinguished performance by individuals and groups.

    CDC is proud of its workforce and what it has accomplished and, when it can, uses monetary awards to recognize its greatest asset—its workers. For example, since 2000, there have been numerous national public health emergencies and events in which CDC has played a key role and has made major contributions to public and individual health and well being. As a result, many CDC employees have received recognition for efforts related to 9-11, the anthrax attacks, West Nile Virus, SARS, avian influenza, pandemic influenza preparedness, and Hurricane Katrina. Many other people at CDC are doing equally important work in their areas and making extraordinary contributions to public health and have been recognized for these accomplishments.

  8. What types of awards can CDC employees receive?

    There are a number of award types:

    • Monetary/Cash Awards: Awards that are processed through the payroll system, i.e., Performance, Special Act or Service (SAS), On-the-Spot (OTS), and Time-Off (TO) awards. Each employee who receives a cash award will get a Standard Form (SF) 50, a separate Earnings and Leave Statement, and the approved award amount (less applicable taxes) deposited to the same account where the employee receives his or her paycheck. Even though Time-Off Awards do not result in the receipt of “cash money,” they are considered monetary awards. Employees who receive a TO award will be granted time off from work without charge to leave or loss of pay and will receive a SF 50.

    • Honor Awards: Non-monetary competitive awards granted in recognition of outstanding accomplishments or career service. Awardees receive award items such as plaques or certificates as a result of earning these awards. CDC and ATSDR Honor Awards are given annually in various categories.

  9. What are the major categories of monetary awards?

    The major categories are:

    • regular annual performance
    • individual special act
    • group special act and
    • Presidential Rank awards

    Special act or service awards are monetary awards for one-time, non-recurring accomplishment that contributes to the fulfillment of agency mission, efficiency or economy of Government operations, or enhances program effectiveness. Award amounts vary depending on tangible or intangible benefits based on the value and scope of the accomplishment(s). Individual or groups of civil service employees, associate service fellows, distinguished consultants and senior biomedical research service members are eligible for these awards. Commissioned corps officers are not.

    Here’s a breakdown of categories within the special act or service award category and their eligibility requirements:

    • On-the-spot award: Type of Special Act or Service Award for the amount of up to $500 (less applicable taxes). Certificates may be presented upon approval, allowing more immediate and personal recognition.

    • Eligibility: Individual civil service employees, associate service fellows, senior service fellows, distinguished consultants, and senior biomedical research service members. Senior Executive Service employees and commissioned corps officers are not eligible.

    • Time-off award: Time off from duty for superior accomplishments without charge to leave or loss of pay.

    • Eligibility: Individual or groups of civil service employees, associate service fellows, senior service fellows, distinguished consultants, and senior biomedical research service members. Commissioned corps officers are not eligible.

  10. What is the Presidential Rank Award?
  11. There are two categories of Presidential Rank Award: Distinguished and Meritorious. Award winners are chosen through a rigorous selection process, with the evaluation criteria focused on leadership and results. Recipients must first be nominated by their agency heads and then evaluated by boards of private citizens, and approved by the President. The awards are extended to employees who have demonstrated success in balancing the needs and perspectives of customers, stakeholders, and employees with organizational results.

    • Distinguished Senior Professional and Executive Rank Award is awarded to leaders who achieve extraordinary results. Only 1 percent of career SES may earn this award. Distinguished rank recipients receive a lump-sum payment of 35 percent of their base pay.

    • Meritorious Senior Professional and Executive Rank Award is awarded to leaders for sustained accomplishments. Only 5 percent of SES career members may receive this award, which includes a lump sum payment of 20 percent of the executive's base pay. As the enclosed information indicates, some of CDC’s SES employees have been recognized with Presidential Rank Awards.

  12. Is there a limit to how many cash awards an employee can receive? Who Approves what?

    There is no limit on cash awards as long as each award is for a different contribution.

    There are limits to the amount of the cash award based on the level of approving authority. For example, a center director may approve a cash award of $5,000 or less for an employee.

    An award for more than that amount would have to be approved by the CDC Director. The CDC director may approve a cash award of $10,000 or less. Any cash award above $10,000 must be approved at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

  13. Why does CDC grant cash awards?

    Awards are an excellent way to recognize the accomplishments of deserving employees throughout the agency. They award performance and special accomplishments. There are, however, a range of awards at CDC, including honor awards, awards for career service, and informal recognition. In addition, CDC supervisors may grant time-off awards and invention and suggestion awards.

  14. Some people believe that their peers are receiving awards for "just doing their job"—is that permitted?

    The awards program requires a justification for each award. This justification must indicate a superior accomplishment by the employee. A difficulty of any incentive program is that fair-minded people may disagree on what does or does not constitute a superior accomplishment.

    In addition, some supervisors may be more or less inclined to use performance awards in their employee management. CDC does provide training to supervisors about the awards program (e.g., Supervisory Survival Skills course).

  15. Can the same employee receive special act awards in multiple quarters in a year?

    There is no limit on special act awards; however, the intent of the special act or service award is to recognize a superior accomplishment within a short period of time (i.e., from 120 days but less than 2 years). Also, special act or service awards may be given to groups or individuals. Supervisors should follow the intent of the award when nominating employees for such awards.

  16. Some awards are in the tens of thousands of dollars—is this appropriate?

    Awards to CDC employees above $10,000 must be granted by the DHHS. In addition, some CDC SES employees have received the highly prestigious Presidential Rank Award, which includes a lump sum payment of either 20 or 30 percent of the executive's pay. All large awards have a rigorous review and approval process. For example, all performance awards for Senior Executive Service (SES) and scientists employed under Title 42 are reviewed by a CDC Performance Review Board. All SES performance awards are also reviewed by a DHHS Performance Recognition Panel and approved by the DHHS Secretary.

  17. Who is responsible for overseeing the CDC awards program?

    Each supervisor is responsible for ensuring that awards are equitable and employees are deserving of the awards they receive. The AHRC administers the awards program and reviews awards to ensure that justifications are provided and that the appropriate authority level approved the award.

  18. Has CDC conducted a trend analysis of cash awards to see if they are awarded equitably?

    CDC has not recently conducted a trend analysis for all awards at CDC. However, while fulfilling the FOIA request, CDC determined that the number and total dollar amount of awards $2,500 or above that have been made between 2000 and July 2006 are in general proportion to the workforce composition between science, program, and administrative support staff.

    CDC is currently reviewing the award nomination and approval process for senior management and high-level professionals. While all awards go through an approval process, it is reasonable to expect awards that include large sums of money should be strictly reviewed and that every effort is made to ensure awards are equitable at CDC. Expect updates on this in the future.

  19. What are the reviews in place now for large monetary awards?

    Large monetary awards have a rigorous review and approval process. A center director may approve a cash award of any type for $5,000 or less for an employee. An award for more than that amount would have to be approved by the CDC Director. The CDC Director may approve a cash award of $10,000 or less. Any cash award above $10,000 must be approved at DHHS.

    All performance awards for Senior Executive Service (SES) and scientists employed under Title 42 are reviewed by a CDC Performance Review Board. All SES performance awards are also reviewed by a DHHS Performance Recognition Panel and approved by the DHHS Secretary.

  20. Can members of the Commissioned Corps receive cash awards?

    No. Although CDC's commissioned corps continually contributes to the mission in important ways, their career path does not allow for cash awards. Nonetheless, they should be recognized through other appropriate award mechanisms when deserving. Managers should make an effort to learn about awards for commissioned corps. To learn more about awards for commissioned corps at CDC, visit http://dcp.psc.gov/eccis/documents/CCPM27_1_1.pdf
    and Book 5 (Medals and Awards) at http://dcp.psc.gov/eccis/CCISToc.aspx?ShowTOC=Y.

     

    Page last modified: 9/27/2006