Skip to main content

HR Order DOJ1200.1: Part 2. Compensation: Chapter 2-18, Agency Awards and Quality Step Increases

  1. References.
  2. Policy.
    1. Award Programs.
      The Department acknowledges the importance of recognizing those employees who perform in an exemplary manner and, in so doing, make significant contributions to the efficiency and effectiveness of Government operations. Employee recognition and award decisions should provide incentives, demonstrate a direct relationship between organizational goal attainment or results and performance recognition, and be made in a timely manner so as to maximize the meaningfulness of recognition.  Awards must be distributed fairly without regard to race, national origin, sex, or other non-merit factors.
    2.  Program Development.
      1. To improve the economy and efficiency of Government operations through
        employee recognition and rewards, components may establish (or follow the
        Department order) and administer component award programs to grant cash,
        honorary, or informal recognition awards, or time-off without charge to leave
        or loss of pay.  Such programs will adhere to the statutory requirement of
        Chapter 45 of title 5, United States Code.
      2. The component awards program may include provisions to recognize other
        significant achievements such as length of service, retirement, and voluntary
        community service. 
      3. Components are encouraged to involve employees and their representatives in
        the development of the component's awards program. 
      4. The procedures and criteria for the awards program will be communicated to
        covered employees and supervisors.
    3. Coverage

      All Department employees are eligible for awards under this chapter, except for
      members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), senior-level employees,  employees paid under the Executive Schedule, and United States Marshals. Immigration Judges and Administrative Law Judges are not covered by the performance award and quality step increase sections of this Chapter.
    4. Responsibility

      Component heads are to ensure that documentation is adequate and that funds are
      available. Component heads have the authority to approve awards up to and
      including $7,500.00.  This authority may be redelegated.  Awards in excess of
      $7,500.00 must be approved by the Attorney General, consistent with  
      28 CFR 0.11.  The Attorney General has retained the authority to approve cash
      awards and quality step increases for Schedule C employees.
    5. Cash Awards
      1. Performance Awards are lump sum cash awards generally with a minimum
        of $250.00 intended to recognize sustained levels of performance that clearly
        exceeds normal requirements. The following criteria apply:
        1. An award for sustained superior performance can only be made on an  
          individual basis.
        2. One or more critical elements must be performed for a period of at least six
          months in a manner clearly exceeding normal requirements.
        3. The employee must not have received another cash performance award
          within the six months preceding the date of nomination.  (Note:  An award
          for a special act or service during the six month period is not
        4. A current performance rating is required at the successful level or higher.
      2. Special Act or Service Awards are lump sum cash awards that recognize
        specific accomplishments that are in the public interest and that have
        exceeded normal job requirements.
        1. This award can be granted to individuals or groups.
        2. The Departmental minimum for a special act or service award is generally
        3. Special act or service contributions are of a one-time, nonrecurring nature,
          connected with or related to official employment, such as performance
          which has involved overcoming unusual difficulties; creative efforts that
          make important contributions; performance of assigned duties with special
          effort or innovation that results in increased productivity, economy, or
          other highly desirable benefits; or exemplary or courageous handling of an
          emergency situation related to official employment.
        4. A performance rating is not used to justify this award, however, a separate
          written justification is required.
      3. On-The-Spot Awards are special act or service awards which normally
        provide immediate recognition for employees, are limited in amount, and may               
        be delegated for approval to first-line supervisors.
        1. The Departmental minimum is $50.00 (after taxes) and a maximum of
          $750.00 per award (in increments of $50.00 only).
        2. An employee cannot be granted more than four on-the-spot cash awards in
          a calendar year, and the total on-the-spot award amount per employee per
          calendar year cannot exceed $3,000.00.
        3. On-the-spot awards are designed to provide quick feedback and special
          monetary recognition to employees who make extra efforts to perform
          duties or special assignments in an exemplary manner.  They should be   
          granted within a reasonable time frame after the occurrence of the special
          act or service.  Examples of worthy performance are:  (1) making a high-       
          quality contribution to a difficult or important project or assignment;
          (2) producing exceptionally high quality work under a tight deadline;
          (3) performing added or emergency assignments in addition to regular
          duties; (4) demonstrating exceptional courtesy or responsiveness in dealing
          with the public, client agencies, or colleagues; and, (5) exercising
          extraordinary initiative or creativity in addressing a critical need or difficult
        4. A performance rating is not used to justify this award, however, a separate
          written justification is required.
    6. Quality Step Increase (QSI) is an increase in an employee's rate of basic pay from one step or rate of the grade of his or her position to the next higher step of that grade or next higher rate within the grade.  The QSI provides faster than normal progression through the step rates of the General Schedule. Unlike other forms of monetary recognition, a QSI permanently increases an employee's rate of basic pay by one step.  No more than one QSI may be granted to an employee in the same 52-week period. In order to be eligible for a QSI, the employee's most recent rating of record must be at the highest level permitted under the component's performance program description.  The employee must have been performing at that grade for a minimum of six months and there is an expectation that the performance will continue at that level for a minimum of an additional six months.
    7. Time-off Awards (TOA) are the granting of time off without charge to leave or loss of pay to an employee as an individual or member of a group.  The value of a TOA is time, not money.  A TOA may not be converted to cash. A TOA recognizes superior accomplishments or other personal efforts that contribute to the quality, efficiency, or economy of Government operations.  They should be used to recognize contributions that are of a one-time, non-recurring nature, and may also be used to recognize sustained high-level performance. They should not be used to circumvent the statutory limits placed on the granting of performance awards.  The minimum time-off award that can be granted is four hours.  The cumulative maximum amount of a time-off award is 120 hours per leave year. A time-off award is effective at the beginning of the pay period following approval of the award.  If the total amount of a time-off award is not used within one year after its effective, any unused time off is forfeited and is not eligible for restoration.  A time off award is not transferrable to another Federal agency or to another DOJ component.  The written justification for the award must be based solely on the merit of the employee's job performance and shall NOT be used to compensate or reward employees for working outside of the basic workweek or in lieu of premium pay, such as overtime.  Promotion has no impact on the granting of a time-off award.
    8. Limitation. Under 5 U.S.C. 4508, cash awards and time-off awards may not be granted to employees in an excepted service position of a confidential or policy-determining character (Schedule C appointments) during a Presidential election period (beginning 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).
    9. Funding for Awards. Each component must hold in reserve funds for performance awards.  The Assistant Attorney General for Administration will issue guidance on the designated reserve for each fiscal year.  Component heads should designate separate funds for SES bonuses, gain-sharing awards, and on-the-spot awards.
  3. Documentation and Reporting.
    1. Components will evaluate the application of their award programs on an annual basis for conformity with this Order.  Components also will submit an annual report to the JMD Human Resources in a format provided by JMD.
    2. All cash awards, quality step increases, and time-off awards will be documented in accordance with the OPM Operating Manual (OM), "The Guide to Processing Personnel Actions."  Awards that are NOT required to be based on the employee's most recent rating of record must be clearly justified and documented.
    3. Award documents will be filed in compliance with the OPM Operating Manual, "The Guide to Personnel Record-keeping."
    4. Components will report award data to the Central Personnel Data File in compliance with instructions in the OPM Operating Manual, "Federal Workforce Reporting System."


Return to the top

Updated May 7, 2021