NB_360_21_11 - NB 360-21-11 PER – Supplemental Award Guidance for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 General Schedule (GS) Employees
NB 360-21-11 PER – Supplemental Award Guidance for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 General Schedule (GS) Employees
National Bulletin: 360-21-11 Date: August 18, 2021
Subject: PER – Supplemental Award Guidance for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 General Schedule (GS) Employees

Action Required By:   September 10, 2021  
Purpose.   To provide supplemental guidance regarding FY 2021 awards. For all GS employees within Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The cutoff date for submission and approval of awards into EmpowHR is September 10, 2021. The September 10, 2021 cutoff date has been established for the submission and approval of extra effort and spot awards in EmpowHR to allow the Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Human Resource Division time to complete the processing of awards in FY 2021, using FY 2021 funding.    
Expiration Date.   September 30, 2021   
Background.   Updated 2021 Award Guidance for GS Employees was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Human Resource Management on June 21, 2021, excluding FY 2020 performance based awards from the FY 2021 award cap of 2.5 percent of aggregate salary.        
Explanation.   NRCS is now authorized to spend up to 2.5 percent of its aggregate salary for all 

non-senior Executive Service (SES/senior level/scientific and professional) extra effort awards and spot awards.


The following updated table displays the current FY 2021 award caps for NRCS.  Deputy Chiefs and State conservationists are responsible for managing their budgets to cover the cost of awards.




Office of the Chief


Management and Strategy




Science and Technology


Soil Science and Resource Assessment


Regional Conservationist (Including STCs)


Central Region


Northeast Region


Southeast Region


West Region




Performance Awards


Procedures for Quality Step Increases for FY 2021 are outlined in National Bulletin 360-21-7; “Fiscal Year 2021 Quality Step Increase Process”, dated June 15, 2021. Cash awards based on performance ratings are no longer allowed as we are now operating under a Pass/Fail system.


Approval Authority


USDA’s Employee Performance and Awards Directive, DR 4040-430, at Appendix D, outlines approval thresholds for awards. In applying the approval thresholds, exclude FY 2020 performance awards awarded in FY 2021.


Discrete or Cumulative Awards within a consecutive 52-week period up to:

Organizational authorization levels are no lower than:

$750 and/or 8 hours

The immediate supervisor *

$2,000 and/or 20 hours

The 2nd level supervisor

$4,000 and/or 40 hours

The first SES in employee’s chain of command

$6,000 and/or 80 hours

The Chief of NRCS


The Undersecretary for FPAC


The Secretary

*For all NRCS awards, the second level supervisor should be notified and concur.


When submitting new FY 2021 awards the above table must be considered. All awards, excluding those tied to FY 2020 performance, provided to the employee in the preceding 52 weeks must be combined with the proposed award in determining the appropriate level of approval. Email approval should be obtained from the appropriate level prior to the EmpowHR submission of the new award. The servicing human resources specialist may request documentation.


The following example illustrates the consideration that must be given: An assistant State conservationist for field operations submits a district conservationist (DC) for a $1,500 extra effort award on July 15, 2021. That DC received three separate awards in the past 52 weeks. On August 30, 2020, she received $750 spot award, in December of 2020 she received a $2,500 performance award (based on her 2020 performance rating), and in March of 2021 she received an extra effort award for $2,000. 


In this example, we count the $750 spot award, and the $2,000 extra effort award but we exclude the $2,500 performance-based award. Her award total over the past 52 weeks is $2,750 and when added to the new proposed award of $1500 totals $4,250. Based on the cumulative total exceeding $4,000, the new award submission must be approved by Chief of NRCS. 

Contact.   Questions regarding this bulletin should be directed to Bart Huber at bart.huber@usda.gov     

Louis Aspey
Deputy Chief for Management and Strategy
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