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Performance Management Handbook (Recognition) - Chapter 10

Chapter 10. Honor Awards

The bureaus are prohibited from automatically granting a Bronze Medal to an individual, group, or organization that was not recommended for a Gold or Silver Medal.

Bronze Medals may only be granted in the annual awards cycle in which the accomplishment was completed.


The purpose of honor awards is to provide high-level recognition to deserving employees for their contributions to the Department.


There are three types of Honor Award Medals:

  • Gold Medal - The highest honorary award granted by the Secretary. A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable, or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one or more operating units, which reflects favorably on the Department.
  • Silver Medal - The second highest honorary award granted by the Secretary. A Silver Medal is defined as exceptional performance characterized by noteworthy or superlative contributions, which have a direct and lasting impact within the Department.
  • Bronze Medal - The highest honorary award granted by a head of an operating unit or Secretarial Officer or equivalent. A Bronze Medal is defined as superior performance characterized by outstanding or significant contributions, which have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the operating unit. 


To warrant a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal, a contribution must focus on qualitative and quantitative performance measures cited in the Department's Strategic Plan and be identified in one of the following categories: 

  • Leadership 
  • Personal and Professional Excellence 
  • Scientific/Engineering Achievement 
  • Organizational Development 
  • Customer Service 
  • Administrative/Technical Support 
  • Heroism. 

For a detailed explanation of the categories, see Appendix G, Honor Awards Criteria.

Types of Awards and Recognition 

See Appendix H, Honor Awards - Types of Awards and Recognition

Program Requirements 

  • Nominating officials are responsible for ensuring that only those individuals and organizations which have made exceptional contributions and which are truly deserving of high honor are nominated. 
  • When deciding which individuals are to be recognized, nominating officials should carefully consider the overall record of each person. 
  • Gold and Silver Medals are given only to employees whose performance is at Level 3 (or equivalent) or higher. 
  • Secretarial Officers and Heads of Operating Units are responsible for ensuring that nominations reflect the broad spectrum of employees in their workforce. All employees are to be given equal consideration, based on their contributions, to be nominated in any of the seven categories. Neither an individual's discipline, occupation, nor grade are to be used to screen out potential nominees in this process. Bureau nominations that do not reflect this spectrum will be returned for reconsideration.
  • An employee can only be nominated for one individual award, and may be nominated for more than one group award.  
  • An employee who received a Bronze Medal may not be nominated for a Gold or Silver Medal for the same accomplishment. However, an employee who has received a special operating unit award may be nominated for a Gold or Silver Medal.
  • A group nomination (Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal) is limited to a maximum of 10 individuals. No exceptions are permitted to this Departmental requirement.

Gold and Silver Medals

Nominating Process

  • The Secretary requests nominations for Gold and Silver Medal Awards annually. Appropriate management officials then request nominations from within their organizations. 
  • Incentive Awards Program Officers review nominations for adherence to award criteria and coordinate action with boards or committees, if appropriate. Nominations are then reviewed and approved by the head of the operating unit. Secretarial Officer nominations of employees from other operating units must include the concurrence of that operating unit head. Approved nominations must be submitted through the Secretarial Officer (or equivalent) to the Director for Human Resources Management and be ranked in priority order for the entire organization. Gold and Silver Medal nominations must be ranked separately; nominations for organizational awards should be ranked among nominations for individuals or groups. 
  • Nominations must be received by the Department's Office of Human Resources Management by the due date established each year. 

Submission Requirements

  • Nominations must be submitted using the web-based Honor Awards Nomination System (HANS). No paper copies will be accepted. For additional details on HANS, see Appendix E, HANS Overview. 
  • Each nomination must describe clearly, in nontechnical language, the contribution to be recognized, its impact on the operating unit or Departmental mission, or strategic objective, and the degree to which the contribution exceeds normal job responsibilities. The justification should specify which of the seven criteria in Appendix G the contribution meets. 
  • Each operating unit must verify internally that there is no information that would negatively affect the nominations. 

Review Procedures

  • The Department's Incentive Awards Board (DIAB) reviews Gold and Silver Medal Award nominations and recommends approval or disapproval to the Secretary. In addition to reviewing the accomplishments, the Board will determine that each nominee has demonstrated qualities of strength, leadership, integrity, industry, and personal conduct of a level that has established and maintained a high degree of public confidence and trust. The DIAB may recommend the approval or disapproval of each member of a group award nomination. 

Award Presentation 

  • Awards are presented by the Secretary at a Departmental Honor Awards Ceremony. 

Bronze Medals

Nominating Process

  • Operating units are encouraged to request nominations for Bronze Medal Awards at the same time Gold and Silver Medal Award, nominations are requested. 
  • Any employee who has a current performance rating of less than Level 3 (or its equivalent) may not be nominated for a Bronze Medal Award. 
  • An employee who received a Bronze Medal Award may not be nominated for a Gold or Silver Medal Award for the same accomplishment.

Submission Requirements

  • The Incentive Awards Program Officers must provide specific submission requirements to the organizations they service when nominations are requested. 

Review Procedures

  • Operating units should design appropriate procedures for review and recommendation of Bronze Medal nominations. 

Award Presentation

  • Awards are presented by the appropriate Secretarial Officer or Head of the Operating Unit (or equivalent) at an annual ceremony scheduled by the operating unit. Operating unit Bronze Medal Awards ceremonies must be held following the Secretary's annual Honor Awards ceremony to ensure that nominees not approved for Gold or Silver Medals have the opportunity to be fully considered for Bronze Medals.