Questions often arise regarding whether awards can be given to political appointees during this period. There are certain legal and regulatory restrictions that apply during this period.
Section 4508 of title 5, United States Code, prohibits Senior Executive Service employees who are not career appointees, and employees in confidential or policy-determining Schedule C positions, from receiving awards during a Presidential election period. The statute defines a Presidential election period as, "any period beginning on June 1 in a calendar year in which the popular election of the President occurs, and ending on January 20 following the date of such election."
Questions often arise regarding whether this restriction would preclude an agency from granting honorary awards to these political appointees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could find no evidence in the legislative history or any other related documentation that Congress intended to include nonmonetary awards, which are primarily honorary in nature. Therefore, in regard to this restriction, agencies may grant awards to political appointees as follows:
The ban on awards that take the form of cash (e.g., performance awards, special act or service awards, and on-the-spot awards) 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.
Delivery of a time-off award is ultimately in the form of pay for time not worked. Thus, it is construed in this context as tantamount to a cash award. Consequently, the ban on time-off awards is absolute. For the purposes of part 451.105(a) of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, we must consider a time-off award as "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 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. OPM 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 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 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.
Another awards restriction applies to certain high-level political officials at any time. Section 4509 of title 5, United States Code, prohibits granting cash awards to employees appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, who are paid under or with reference to the Executive Schedule.
Awards administrators and others who may be involved in the awards process need to be aware of these award restrictions for political appointees –especially the restrictions during Presidential election periods. Awareness will help ensure adherence to the statute, which in turn will promote confidence in Federal awards programs.