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In the legislative history and other documents that led to the legislation at
section 4508 of title 5, United States Code, that bans the granting of awards to
political appointees during a Presidential election period, the subject under
discussion was clearly limited to "bonuses" or awards with principally a
monetary value. There is no evidence that the prohibition was intended to
include awards that are primarily honorary in nature (i.e., that do not grant
cash). Therefore, the Office of Personnel Management interprets both the law and
its accompanying regulation to prohibit any cash award and any other bonus
delivered under the cover of a nonmonetary award, i.e., any award with an
apparent value that is more monetary than honorific. Applying this
interpretation, award categories are treated as follows:
Cash Awards—The ban on awards (i.e., performance awards, special act or
service awards, etc.) that take the form of cash is absolute for political
appointees during a Presidential election period. Under no circumstances may a
political appointee receive an award in the form of cash, including any
honorarium or stipend that may be associated with an agency honorary award.
Time-Off Awards—Because a time-off award is ultimately delivered in the form
of pay for time not worked, it must be construed in this context as tantamount
to a cash award. Consequently, the ban on time-off awards is absolute. For the
purposes of section 451.105(a) of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, a
time-off award is considered "received" when it is granted. Under no
circumstances may a political appointee receive a time-off award during a
Presidential election period.
Honorary Awards and Informal Recognition Awards— Honorary awards and informal
recognition awards may take a wide variety of forms with a wide variance in
monetary value, both in terms of direct cost and the appearance of such value.
The Office of Personnel Management concluded that an agency may grant a
political appointee an honorary or informal recognition award during a
Presidential election period, provided that the form of the honorary award
avoids the appearance of replacing a bonus. Agencies must exercise good judgment
in selecting honorific items. Such items should create the inherent impression
of symbolic value (an honor being bestowed) rather than monetary worth (cash
value). For example, presenting a commemorative photograph or a certificate in a
simple, inexpensive frame would be appropriate, but presenting an expensive
crystal carafe would not be.
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