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Performance management handbook (recognition) - chapter 1

Chapter 1. General Incentive Award Provisions 


The Recognition section of the Performance Management Handbook prescribes Department of Commerce policies, procedures, and requirements for awards based on performance, one-time special achievements, and other superior accomplishments, which improve Government operations and services. 


The Incentive Awards section of the Performance Management Handbook applies to all awards that the Department grants or for which the Department offers nominations, except those unique to the Senior Executive Service, Senior Foreign Service and NOAA Corps members. 

Related Award Documents 

Other documents which describe systems or programs related to the incentive awards program are:

  • 5 U.S.C. Chapter 45, Government Employees Incentive Awards Act
  • 5 CFR 451, Awards
  • 5 CFR 531, Pay Under the General Schedule
  • U.S.C. Chapter 53, Pay Under the General Schedule
  • DAO 202-920, Executive Personnel and Policy Manual
  • DAO 202-452, Incentive Awards for Federal Inventors
  • DAO 202-453, Awards for the Disclosure of Fraud, Waste or Mismanagement
  • Foreign Service Act of 1980, as amended, Applicable Provisions for Foreign Service Employees
  • Foreign Affairs Manual, Vol. 3, Awards for Foreign Service Americans and Foreign Service Local Hires 
  • Foreign Service Personnel Management Manual, Subchapter 500-3, Precepts of the Foreign Service Selection Boards
  • 33 U.S.C. 853R, NOAA Corps: Personnel Board
  • NDM 56-68.05, NOAA Corps Uniform Regulations (Awards)
  • B-233607 (10/26/89), Comptroller General Decisions (payment of travel expenses to 55 CG-800 (1976) attend honor awards ceremonies)
  • 65 CG-738 (1986), Comptroller General Decisions (payment for refreshments for awards ceremonies)

Confidentiality of Nominations

Documentation in support of recommendations for recognition is confidential information and is available only to those involved in the awards decision process and other officials on a need-to-know basis.

As a general rule, recommendations are not to be discussed with nominees or with anyone not involved in the decision process until the award has been approved within the Department, or in the case of external award nominations, until the nominee has been selected by the Department as its nominee. 

When nominations for external awards require personal information (e.g., date of birth, home address, professional affiliations, employment history), operating units must obtain permission from the nominee(s) before submitting the information to the Department. 


An employee is prohibited from nominating them self for a cash award or an honorary award (e.g. Gold, Silver or Bronze Medals)

Former Employees

Awards may be granted to former employees or to their legal heirs or estates if the contribution recognized by the award was made during their employment with the Department.

Nongrievable Action

The granting of, or failure to, grant an employee an award is not grievable.

Award Concurrences

An award nomination for an employee outside the nominator's office, division, or operating unit must be concurred with by the appropriate management official in the employee's supervisory chain of command. 

Dual Compensation/Recognition

An employee is prohibited from receiving more than one monetary award/time off award for the same accomplishment, either as an individual or as a member of a group. This prohibition also applies to non-monetary and honorary recognition (e.g., Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals).

Promotional Items as Awards


Managers have often asked about the propriety of purchasing special merchandise items to use as rewards for employees. Often this inquiry is presented within the context of promoting a particular program, such as giving tokens (i.e., tee shirts) as "thank you’s", or providing morale boosters to promote an "esprit de corps" among employees. 

What is Allowed

Managers can use existing merchandise award programs (i.e., On-the-Spot Awards) to reward employees for special accomplishments. Appropriated and/or reimbursable funds may only be used to purchase merchandise for employees within an approved award program. 

What You Cannot Do

Managers may not independently create their own award programs in which they give merchandise items outside of an approved award program. Legally, such programs are prohibited since the award items are viewed as "personal gifts" and as such, are not allowed under the provisions of this Handbook.

This guidance is not related to the authority agencies may have to purchase legitimate promotional materials for which specific funding has been allocated for marketing and outreach activities.

Up-Front Incentives

The Federal Government typically uses recognition programs (i.e., recognizes something you have already done). However, the definition of an award (5 CFR 451.102) permits agencies to use incentives ("if you do what we asked we will give you an award") to motivate employees. Existing award programs should be used as the incentive. These programs include: Special Acts, Cash-in-Your-Account, Time-Off, or On-the-Spot Awards.

Operating units must make a determination that an "up-front incentive" is an appropriate means to motivate employees to accomplish a specific project or task. 

A written signed agreement is required between the employee and the granting official that clearly:

  • Identifies the incentive to be granted upon successful completion of the project or assignment; 
  • Sets clear and specific goals, milestones, and measures (i.e., attendance at meetings staying within budget, meeting deadlines, etc.); 
  • Defines the level of participation for each member of the group and how that relates to the incentive; and 
  • Communicates the agreement in writing to all participants.

Inter and Intra-Agency Transfer 

As a general principle, it is wise for a supervisor who plans on giving an award to an employee who is in the process of moving to another agency, other than the DOC bureau or going into another pay system, to know in advance if the receiving agency can and will process the award.

The current supervisor should carefully coordinate with the receiving agency supervisor to ensure that the:

  • Employee remains eligible for the award; 
  • Receiving agency has a mechanism for processing the award; 
  • Awards do not conflict with a receiving agency's policies or processing timetable; and 
  • Receiving agency has sufficient funds, and is willing to expend them, to cover the award amount. 


Effective January 1, 1999, the SF-50 documenting awards may not be filed on the right side of the Official Personnel Folder (OPF). However, QSIs and MSIs must be filed on the right side.The SF-50 and other documentation (i.e., award justification and other reference material) may be filed on the left (temporary) side of the OPF or in the Employee Performance File (EPF). Each operating unit may determine its internal processing procedures regarding filing award documentation. 

Incentive Awards Program records must be kept for 3 years in a manner, which facilitates efficient reviews, audits, and evaluations of the program, and in accordance with privacy act regulations.


Within the limits of administrative discretion permitted to the Department, the Director for Human Resources Management may grant exceptions to the provisions of this Handbook from time to time in unusual cases whenever the facts indicate that such an exception will promote the objectives of the Incentive Awards Program. Each request for an exception must be submitted in writing through the head of the operating unit or appropriate Program Secretarial Officer or equivalent and must contain a full justification for the request.

Effect on Other Orders

This Recognition Section of this Handbook supersedes DAO 202-450 (Establishment of Awards and Service Certificates), dated September 9, 1975; DAO 202-451 (Incentive Awards Program), dated November 3, 1978, as amended; and DAO 202-451, dated August 16, 1990, as amended. This Handbook also supersedes all operating unit or regional directives prescribing policy for the Incentive Awards Program.