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Every spring all over America, flags are unfurled and music is played at grade school assemblies when the top Safety Patrol members are announced. And each winter millions of us watch the broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors, when the Nation acknowledges the careers of five outstanding performing artists.
In each case, the focus of our attention and the source of esteem are much less the items that are awarded a special patrol belt or a medallion hung from a multi-colored ribbon and much more the public acts and expressions of respect and admiration the ceremonies include. Those acts and expressions are awards in themselves, and they are among the most powerful nonmonetary awards that agencies can grant.
Ceremonies and honors have a value for the organization that extends well beyond the individuals being recognized. Publicly identifying "organizational heroes" individuals and groups who embody the organization's core values is key to their serving as examples and inspiring others. Getting those heroes into the public eye is easily accomplished through both formal and informal ceremonies.
Many agencies use formal, staged awards events with the presence of top agency officials, color guards, etc. to recognize exceptional achievers throughout the agency.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Kennedy Space Center in Florida conducts its Annual Honor Awards Ceremony each spring. The Center's Director and Deputy Director present various awards in the form of medals and certificates. The ceremony in the Center's auditorium is open to all employees and broadcast to employees who are unable to attend. A reception is held afterwards.
The idea of "ceremony" is not limited to such formal events. Less elaborate expressions can be equally meaningful, easier to plan for, and offer an attractive low-cost option to add flair when granting less formal recognition and awards.
The "Thanks! You Made a Difference!" award given at the Naval Inventory Control Point (NICP) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is a good example of such an informal ceremony. This award goes to employees who have gone the extra mile to help others at NICP and can be given by any individual or group of employees to another employee, with no supervisory approval required. The award is presented by the group of givers to the employee in his or her work area. The features of this "ceremony" include a standing ovation by the group, a certificate of commendation, a cluster of helium balloons, and a photograph of the event.
Another example of an informal ceremony is the "H.R.D." (Highly Regarded Dynamo) award, a nonmonetary award established by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's Human Resources Department (HRD). Every HRD employee is eligible. At the monthly staff meeting, a chosen HRD employee is recognized for accomplishments or special efforts made during the previous month by having the latest winner pass along to the next winner a trophy mug stuffed with candy to share. The mug is kept at the awardee's desk for the next month.
Remember that the Governmentwide regulations cover these kinds of ceremonies by defining award to include "an action taken to recognize and reward." And the Comptroller General has long held that the expenses of conducting ceremonies, including items such as refreshments, may be considered "necessary expense for...honorary recognition" authorized under 5 U.S.C. 4503.