The PRAWN Challenge

Presidential Rank Award Winners Network (PRAWN)

Summary: Each year, a small cadre of top performing Federal executives is selected for a Presidential Rank Award.  An information network — the Presidential Rank Award Winners Network (PRAWN) — could link together current and retired award winners to create an invaluable resource to help agencies throughout government meet their increasing challenges.

Background: The Office of Personnel Management administers the Presidential Rank Award Program.    OPM says, “Recipients of this prestigious award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service…” and “The evaluation criteria focus on leadership and results.”  In 1996, I was given a Presidential Rank Award. I was one of only 60 Distinguished Executives chosen from a career Senior Executive Service numbering 6,000. Being in that “1%” was something to be proud of.  I marveled at the expertise, commitment, and enthusiasm of my colleagues. After the White House ceremonies, we each went back to our agencies.  I regretted not having the opportunity to work with more of these outstanding people to improve our agencies.


  • The Presidential Rank Award winners are an invaluable resource. We are respected leaders and opinion shapers in our agencies. We are the institutional memory of government. We know the histories and constituencies – and limitations — of our agencies. We know of lurking vulnerabilities and opportunities yet to be explored. Many of us have experience that crosses multiple departments and agencies.
  • An information network would create a virtual community of experts. Creating a network of several hundred active and retired Presidential Rank Award winners would be easy and inexpensive with off-the-shelf software.
  • Today’s political and career leadership could be tapping this resource for ideas and assistance.  PRAWN could brainstorm short turn around, ‘red team’ responses to new proposals, with longer term discussions developed into white papers. As opinion shapers, PRAWN members could help sell new initiatives across agencies and departments.
  • This concept has proven highly effective. The Knowledge Management Division of the Virginia Department of Transportation assembled groups of senior civil engineers to advise their political leadership. They found that, even in groups of only a dozen or so, career staff were quite willing to offer candid advice – as a group. I did their site visit for the Kennedy School’s Ash Institute Innovations in American Government Awards in 2005. See HERE.
  • A demonstration of PRAWN could be started quickly. PRAWN could be supported by OPM and housed within an independent, nongovernmental entity such as the Senior Executives Association to assure its survival across Administrations. PRAWN might even evolve into a resource for state and local governments.

For more information, contact: Robert Knisely at

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