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Recognition and Awards Program

Public Health Service
Indian Health Service
Rockville, Maryland 20857

Refer to: DHR


Effective Date:  10/15/1997


  1. PURPOSE.  The purpose of this circular is to describe the Indian Health Service (IHS) policy and procedures for the Recognition and Awards Program and to provide guidance in recognizing and awarding individuals and groups within the Indian Health Service (IHS) fairly and equitably.

  2. LEGAL AUTHORITIES.  The authority for the IHS Recognition and Awards Program is derived from 5 United States Code (U.S.C.) 45 and 53, Executive Order (E.O.) 11438, 5 Code of Federal Regulations 451 and 531.501, and the Departmental Personnel Instructions (HHS-451-1) for recognizing and awarding civil service, employees.

  3. POLICY.  It is the policy of the IHS to recognize deserving employees, regardless of grade level, organization, or position for contributions and achievements that further the mission and strategic goals of the IHS, enhance organizational performance, and/or improve organizational quality.  Managers at all levels in the IHS shall ensure that recognition of employees is based solely on merit and that awards are presented in a timely manner and are appropriately publicized.  Only employees with an acceptable level of performance are eligible for the awards program.

    1. Link recognition and awards to IHS goals, objectives, and other significant activities.
    2. Ensure recognition and awards include all deserving employees, regardless of grade level, organization, or position, and other individuals eligible to receive recognition as outlined in this document.
    3. Recognize employees for specific achievements, tasks, and contributions.
    4. Managers are to be empowered to give appropriate recognition to all deserving employees.
    5. Involve coworkers and, customers in recognition recommendations and nominations where practicable.
    6. Recognize and award employees in a timely manner.
    7. Emphasize group recognition to foster team work and collaboration, while not ignoring individual contributions.
    8. Encourage all forms of recognition whether formal or informal.

    1. Civil Service Employees and Managers: Eligibility varies with the type of award (see Exhibits 97-10-A and B).  Awards may be given to individual employees or groups of employees.  Employees are not limited in the number, types, or frequency of awards they may receive.  However, an employee will not receive more than one form of monetary award for the same work product, activity, or contribution.  Honor awards may be considered for an accomplishment previously recognized with a monetary award.
    2. PHS Commissioned Officers: Awards for employees who are members of the PHS Commissioned Corps must be in accordance with the policies established in the Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual (CCPM).  Commissioned Corps, awards are used to recognize the accomplishments and performance of deserving commissioned officers and enhance morale.  Supervisors and management officials who oversee the work of commissioned officers must be familiar with the range of awards described in the CCPM for recognition of commissioned officers and utilize the award options as appropriate.  The guiding principles and policy listed in this issuance should be extended to the recognition of commissioned officers, to the extent these principles are in accord with the CCPM.  When recognizing teams, a PHS Outstanding Unit Citation or PHS Unit Commendation would be the appropriate form of recognition for a commissioned corps team member.  Commissioned Officers may receive honor awards (see Exhibits 97-10A and B).
    3. Other Individuals:

      Honorary (nonmonetary) awards may be given to any individual who merits a recognition for a contribution or achievement in assisting the IHS in accomplishing its mission and strategic goals.

    1. Director, IHS:  The IHS Director has overall authority and responsibility for the Recognition and Awards Program.  The Director (or designee) is responsible for ensuring that policy and procedures are established and implemented within the IHS for:
      1. Reviewing and approving monetary rewards in accordance with the delegations of authority.
      2. Delegating authority to recognize employees (GS-15 level and below) and provide associated funding for such awards to the lowest possible levels within the organization.
      3. Reviewing and approving monetary awards that are specifically for members of the Senior Executive Service.
      4. Endorsing award nominations for the following:
        1. IHS employees that require Agency-level support.
        2. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) honor awards.
        3. Award programs sponsored by non-HHS organizations.
        4. Monetary awards that exceed the $10,000 limit per individual/group.
    2. Director of Headquarters Operations and Area Directors:

      The Director of Headquarters Operations (DHO) and Area Directors are responsible for:

      1. Ensuring the effective implementation and administration of the awards program within their organizations.
      2. Incorporating funding for recognition into budget planning.
      3. Encouraging the recognition of employees through monetary and non-monetary types of awards, as well as other informal forms of appreciation.
      4. Approving awards within their delegated authority; reviewing and endorsing all non-monetary award nominations for IHS and HHS level recognition.
      5. Ensuring that employee recognition is publicized, when practicable.
      6. Ensuring merit and equality in the distribution of awards.
      7. Endorsing individuals for recognition of IHS and HHS level awards, and awards that are over $10,000.
    3. Director, Division of Human Resources: The Director, Division of Human Resources, Office of Management Support, is responsible for:
      1. Developing, implementing, and updating the recognition and awards program that supports and enhances the accomplishment of the IHS goals and objectives, and meets employees need for appreciation.
      2. Providing technical assistance to both supervisors and employees on the appropriate use of the recognition and awards program.
      3. Ensuring the effective promotion and publicity of the program with the assistance of the Public Affairs Staff and other sources.
      4. Evaluating the program for regulatory compliance and effective administration of the program by individual, IHS components.
      5. Reporting on the distribution of awards throughout IHS and the effectiveness of the use of awards in recognizing IHS employees.
    4. Servicing Personnel Officers awards Coordinators:  Servicing Personnel Officers and Awards Coordinators are responsible for:
      1. Developing, implementing, and updating the recognition and awards program that supports and enhances the accomplishment of the IHS goals and objectives, and meets employees need for appreciation.
      2. Providing periodic training to both supervisors and employees on the appropriate use of the recognition and awards program.
      3. Ensuring the effective promotion and publicity of the program.
      4. Evaluating the program for regulatory compliance and effective administration of the program by individual components.
      5. Reporting on the distribution of awards throughout their servicing area, and the effectiveness of using awards in recognizing their employees.
    5. Managers and Supervisors:  Managers and Supervisors are responsible for:
      1. Recognizing employees for specific contributions and/or achievements and writing award nominations.
      2. Ensuring merit and equality in the distribution of awards.
      3. Obtaining team leader, supervisor, manager, peer, and customer input as appropriate.
      4. Recognizing contributions and/or achievements promptly.
      5. Developing and using informal types of recognition (see Section 7A(7) of this circular).
      6. Providing input or approving/disapproving, as authorized, awards for employees within their organizations.
    6. Employees:  Employees are responsible for:
      1. Executing daily activities conducive to the enhancement of IHS performance, the achievement of IHS goals and objectives, and the improvement of organizational quality.
      2. Recommending other employees whose contributions and/or achievements are deserving of recognition to supervisors, and managers.
      3. Nominating peers for awards, as appropriate.

    1. Non-monetary Recognition:  Honorary and informal awards reinforce the significance of employee achievements.  The prestige of these types of awards is reflected in the presentation and publicity of the award.  This category includes the following:
      1. The IHS Director's Award:  The Director recognizes individuals or groups of employees whose special efforts and contributions beyond regular duty requirements have resulted in significant benefits to the programs or customers of IHS and fulfillment of the IHS mission.  Examples of such efforts/contributions include exceptional initiative, or leadership in carrying out activities to improve IHS program operations to benefit the IHS environment; unusual competence, compassion or heroism; outstanding contribution to a special committee or task force dealing with IHS-wide policies, procedures, or operations; outstanding efforts in applying technical or clerical support skills to accomplish the IHS mission; skill and leadership in administration, knowledge or skill building, knowledge, dissemination, or technology transfer; or notable competence and resourcefulness in improving the knowledge building or knowledge application capacity of IHS.

        This award is granted at the discretion of the Director and individuals can be nominated at any time.  Nominations for this award may be initiated by co-workers, team leaders, or supervisors for recommendation by an Area Director.  The award may consist of a certificate, plaque, or medallion that is to be presented at General Staff Meetings, special meetings (formal or informal), or ceremonies at Headquarters, Area Offices, and Service Units.

      2. Director of Headquarters Operations and Area Director Merit Awards:  The DHO and Area Directors Merit Awards are granted at the discretion of the DHO or Area Director to recognize individuals or teams of employees whose superior service and achievement warrant special appreciation.  Examples of such service or achievements may include:  leadership that contributed to the successful accomplishment of an IHS program; significant knowledge building or knowledge application or administrative support efforts that contributed substantially to the accomplishment of IHS's mission; effective supervisory leadership in training and using employees in a manner that maximizes their career development; creative or outstanding efforts in applying technical or service skills; or notable competence and resourcefulness in improving the knowledge building, knowledge application, or administrative management of the organization.  This award may consist of a plaque, certificate, or items of nominal value determined at the local level.
      3. Service Unit Merit Awards:  This award is granted and presented at the discretion of the Service Unit Director.  The criteria for this award are the same as the DHO and Area Director Merit Awards above.  The scope of the award is limited to Service Units, clinics, and urban programs in the field.  This award is approved by the service unit director or program director at the local level.
      4. Peer Recognition Awards:  This is an honorary awards award that enables employees to nominate a co-worker or group of co-workers in recognition of a one-time noteworthy accomplishment.  The nomination must be signed by the nominating employee with the signed endorsement of two additional employees and the receiving employee's immediate supervisor.
      5. Certificates of Service:  A certificate and pin shall be presented to employees to recognize milestones (10, 20, 30, and 40 years) within an employee's Federal Government career.  The Secretary, HHS, recognizes those employees with 50 or more years of service.
      6. Retirement Certificates:  A certificate shall be given to retiring employees to express appreciation for their contributions to the IHS and the Federal Government.
      7. Informal Recognition:  Individual managers, supervisors and team leaders may show appreciation for a job well done or a special contribution by providing personalized and immediate recognition.  Such recognition might include saying "thank you," posting a thank-you note on the employee's office door, sending an e-mail acknowledgment of the employee's hard work, writing a letter of appreciation, arranging for the employee to accompany you to a conference or meeting, granting an extended lunch period for one week, creating and posting a sign or banner that praises the employee, having an Employee of the Month program, etc.  All IHS components are strongly encouraged to create additional categories of honorary (nonmonetary) awards as necessary.  Organizations may also purchase items of nominal value (not to exceed $100) with which to recognize employees: coffee mugs, pens, framed, posters/pictures, paperweights, clocks, umbrellas, etc.
      8. Other Honor Awards: Departmental awards are granted by the Secretary.  These awards are designed to recognize exceptional or meritorious achievement.  Specific Department awards are described in the HHS Personnel Instruction 541-1, Incentive Awards.
        1. Superior Service Award.  The Secretary has delegated the authority to approve the Department's Superior Service Award for IHS employees to the Director, IHS.  The Superior Service Award consists of a silver medal, a lapel pin, and a certificate, and may be awarded to an individual or a group of employees.
        2. Various organizations outside the Department sponsor awards for which IHS employees may be nominated.  Calls for nominations and criteria are announced during the year.
    2. Monetary Recognition Monetary recognition is one of many tools with which team leaders, supervisors, and managers may encourage employees to achieve organizational results.  The award nomination should be brief and answer the following questions:

      • What was done?
      • Why is it exceptional and exemplary?
      • What is the reason the work deserves a monetary award?
      • What level of award is recommended?

      Along with the definition of various types of award categories, each type of award provides criteria to guide nominating employees in the selection of an appropriate type of recognition.

      Awards are not an entitlement and the criteria provided below is merely a guideline for selecting a type of recognition when such recognition is deemed appropriate.

      1. Superior Task Achievement/Recognition (STAR) Awards:  These awards are intended for more immediate recognition and motivation.  Nominating officials should be cognizant that these awards are typically a lesser dollar amount than the other forms of monetary recognition, and that only one, type of monetary recognition may be awarded for a particular act, service, or achievement.  An employee may not receive more than one monetary award for the same act, service or achievement.
        1. On-the-Spot Awards:  A cash award not to exceed $500 with which team leaders or supervisors may recognize individual employees for their superior task contribution or achievements.  The award must be approved by a supervisor who is at a level higher than the supervisor who initiated the award.  Examples of employee contributions that might be considered, for this type of award are one-time noteworthy achievements that might go unrewarded by other types of awards, such as volunteering for an extra or emergency assignment while maintaining own workload, using personal initiative and creativity to solve an unusual problem, or producing a work product of exceptionally high quality under tight guidelines.  The contributions being recognized will usually have been executed during a limited period.  A certificate is issued by the approving official to present the on-the-spot recognition to the employee; the cash payment for the award is issued through the payroll system.  There is no limit on the number of on-the-spot awards a person can receive in a single year.  However, each award must recognize a different task or achievement.
        2. Time-Off Awards:  This award grants time off from duty without loss of pay or charge to leave for a substantial accomplishment or personal effort that contributes to the quality, efficiency, or economy of IHS operations.  This award is generally given in recognition of significantly diligent and demanding work on a particular project.  The award can be initiated by supervisors, team leaders, or co-workers with the endorsement of second level supervisors.  Supervisors can approve, for employees under their supervision, a time-off award of one day (8 hours) without higher level approval.  The maximum amount of time off that may be granted for any, full-time employee during one, year is 80 hours.  Approval for more than 8 hours time off is at the next level above the initiating supervisor.  For part-time employees, the maximum hours that may be granted during one leave year are the number of hours in the employee's biweekly scheduled tour of duty.
        3. Innovation/Initiative Awards:  This is a cash award up to $1,000 that may be initiated by a team leader or supervisor in recognition of an employee's demonstrated initiative in enhancing their own skills or those of their coworkers in anticipation of the needs of the office that has resulted in a positive contribution to the organization. An employee may receive no more than one innovation/initiative award per calendar year.
      2. Special Act Awards:  These cash awards are given in recognition of a special act or service that is of a one-time nature of important significance to the organization.  The awards recognize the special contribution and achievement in performing an aspect of a job or special assignment.  These awards may be initiated by employees, team leaders, supervisors, and managers.  These awards are reviewed and approved by the appropriate official with delegated authority.
        1. Outstanding Teamwork Awards:  This is a cash award that is divided equally among all members of the team.  This award can be initiated by co-workers, team leaders, or supervisors.  Nominations are submitted directly to the nominator's awards board for review and recommendation to the appropriate approving official.  This award is to be used for all monetary awards to groups or teams and is presented for outstanding achievement in a particular team effort as demonstrated by contribution to the mission, goals, objectives, and other significant activities of the agency or the organizational unit.  The limit on the total amount given to a group or team is $10,000.  If there is a case for a larger amount, the nomination must go to the Director, IHS, for endorsement before going to the Secretary of HHS for approval.
        2. Superior Support Service Awards:  This is a cash award that may be initiated by supervisors or team leaders for one-grade interval technical, administrative support, or clerical employees.  The focus of this wards is to recognize an exceptional achievement or accomplishment.  These awards may not exceed 5 percent of base pay.
        3. Superior Customer Service Awards:  This is a cash award that is not to exceed 3 percent of base pay.  This award is for achievements of critical importance to IHS, Area, or Headquarters Offices that affect external customers and have high visibility or broad implications outside of IHS.  For example, producing a handbook of exceptional quality and value to external customers or exceptional contributions in coordinating the participation of numerous Federal, State, and local agencies for a conference of importance to IHS and tribal organizations.
        4. Superior Administrative Service Awards:  This is a cash award that must not exceed 3 percent of base pay.  This award recognizes exceptional and exemplary services, such as developing new administrative processes or guidelines, or providing service/staff work to customers in support of an important activity.
        5. Performance-Based Awards:  The IHS Performance Appraisal System (PAS) does not provide for an annual pay award as a result of performance evaluation due to the use of pass/fail ratings.  The only performance based award is a Quality Step Increase (QSI) and is a permanent increase in base pay.  A QSI is an increase in basic pay equivalent to one step of the General Schedule that is in addition to any within grade increase, and may be awarded for sustained superior performance that is preeminent in character.  A QSI must be nominated by the immediate supervisor and endorsed by the next level supervisor, with approval by the servicing personnel officer at the conclusion of, the annual IHS appraisal cycle.  An employee may receive only one QSI in a 52 week period.  A QSI may not be granted to an employee who has received a QSI within the preceding 52 consecutive calendar weeks.  Consequently, QSIs may not be granted in 2 consecutive years.  GS employees are eligible for a QSI if their current performance rating is at the "Acceptable Level" of the IHS PAS.  However, there is no requirement for automatically granting a QSI for the 'Acceptable Level' of performance.  Performance must be sustained at an unusually high level, be expected to continue in the future, and must be recognized by both customers and superiors as unusually high and rare performance.  Additionally, the employee must have demonstrated one of the following:
          1. Significant, substantive, and measurable contributions to important organizational goals.
          2. Mastery of technical skills and thorough understanding of organizational goals exerted a major positive influence on program implementation, management practices, or operating procedures that contributed substantially to organizational growth and recognition.
          3. Intelligent and effective handling of particularly difficult assignments, where the results included innovative and implementable solutions to persistent, complex, and/or unexpected and formidable problems.
    3. Suggestion Awards:  Additional guidance will follow on the policy and procedures of this award.

  8. NOMINATIONS, APPROVALS, AND DELEGATIONS.  The nominations and approvals of awards (see Exhibits 97-10-C and D) are as follows:
    1. For all monetary awards (with the exception of Time-Off, Outstanding Teamwork, and QSI awards), the immediate supervisor initiates the award and nominates an employee, the designated budget official within the organization reviews, recommends or endorses the award, to ensure funds availability, and the second level, supervisor approves the, award.
    2. For all other monetary awards:
      1. Time-Off Awards are initiated and/or approved by the immediate supervisor for up to one work day.  For more than one work day, the second supervisor approves for up to 80 hours.
      2. Outstanding Team work Awards are nominated by the immediate supervisor or team leader of the group or team.  The designated budget official within the organization reviews, recommends, or endorses the award to ensure funds availability.  Depending upon the appropriate level, either the Director, DHO, or individual Area Director would approve.
      3. Quality Step Increases are initiated by the supervisor or rating official after the annual performance cycle.  The second line supervisor reviews, recommends, or endorses the QSI, and then the servicing personnel officer approves.
    3. Honorary awards (with the exception of the Secretary's Award for Distinguished Service and Secretary's Superior Service Award) are initiated by the supervisor, endorsed by the second-level supervisor, and approved by the appropriate approving official.
    4. Other honorary awards:
      1. The Secretary's Award for Distinguished Service is initiated by the supervisor or co-workers.  The Director; IHS endorses the award and the Secretary approves it.  The call for nominations is conducted annually around January.
      2. The Secretary's Superior Service Award is initiated by the supervisor.  The Area Director reviews, recommends or endorses the award and the Director, IHS approves it.
      3. Peer Recognition Award is initiated by a co-worker with endorsement of two additional co-workers and the immediate supervisor; the second level supervisor approves.

  9. REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION.  The attached "IHS Recognition and awards Program Nomination and Approval Form" (see Exhibit, 97-10-E) must be used to document award, nominations and approvals for awards within the IHS recognition program (monetary, time-off, peer recognition, IHS honor awards, and QSI).  Nomination formats for awards sponsored by or organizations other than IHS may be specific to that program.  All monetary, time-off, and QSI recognition awards must be documented by a SF-50, "Notification of Personnel Action."  Approving authorities must forward all award nominations and approvals to their servicing personnel office, as appropriate, for processing.

  10. AWARDS FUNDING.  A percentage of aggregate base pay per organizational component shall be budgeted for each fiscal year to recognize employees.  It is recommended these funds be used for the payment of monetary awards, and expended at least quarterly throughout the year.  IHS components must also budget for related expenses such as plaques, certificates, tokens of nominal value, printing/distribution costs associated with awards publicity, cost of any local recognition event, and similar expenditures.

  11. RECOGNITION ACTIVITIES. All non-monetary and monetary awards must be presented by the highest ranking official available at 'General Staff" meetings, special staff meetings, or events specifically held for recognition and awards presentations, or informal impromptu meetings. Lists of names of individuals who have received monetary or honor awards shall be published on at least a semi-annual basis.

    1. Timeliness:  With the exception of the QSI Performance-based Award, monetary recognition must occur throughout the year and should not be triggered by end-of-appraisal period ratings, ratings of record, or annual awards ceremonies.
    2. Regulations:  Formal and informal recognition and approval or disapproval of awards must comply with ethical and procurement restrictions as specified in IHS, HHS, and Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).

  13. SUPERSEDURE.  This circular supersedes Indian Health Service Circular 77-1, "IHS Guidelines for Granting Quality Increases and Cash Awards," dated March 16, 1977; Special General Memorandum (SGM) 89-06 "EPMS Performance Award "Program," dated August 25, 1989; SGM 89-7, "Cash Awards for Recruiting Referrals," dated December 16 1989; and uncontrolled memorandum from the Director "Maximum Amount for On-the-Spot Cash Awards," dated December 6, 1994.

  14. EFFECTIVE DATE.  This circular is effective upon date of signature by the Director, IHS

/Michael H. Trujillo, M.D./
Michael H. Trujillo, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.
Assistant Surgeon General
Director, Indian Health Service

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