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What it takes to make the Fed 100

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In the weeks since the gala to honor the 2012 Federal 100 winners, the same four questions keep popping up in emails, voice-mail messages and face-to-face conversations:

"How are the winners decided?"

"Who is eligible?"

"What's required in a nomination?"

"When can I nominate someone for next year?"

Nominations for the 2013 Federal 100 won't be accepted until the fall -- the award is for accomplishments in this calendar year, after all -- but here's how it works and what can be done to make the strongest possible case when the time comes.

The ground rules

First of all, anyone who is part of the federal IT community is eligible for a Federal 100 award. Generally, that means agency employees and select members of the federal contracting sector, but past winners have included members of Congress, academics, independent watchdogs and even a journalist or two.

More on Fed 100 nominations

Bob Woods: Who cares about awards anyway?

Second, anyone can submit a nomination. Floating oneself is a bad idea, and nominations that are clearly driven by commercial interests are rarely effective, but a broad pool allows the judges to make better picks.

Third, an individual can win multiple Federal 100 awards over the years, so long as he or she has a new accomplishment that merits the recognition. Eagle award winners, however -- the one government and one private-sector winner selected from each year's Federal 100 as the best of the best -- have their number retired and are not eligible for future Federal 100s.

Nominations must be submitted via an online form on There is no "save this for later" option, so be sure to have the nomination drafted and ready before starting to submit.

Basic contact information for both the nominee and nominators is required, but five short "essay questions" form the heart of the nomination. Winning nominations tell a compelling story about:

  • The nominee's job. What he or she is tasked with doing in the federal IT space.
  • The nominated work. What was accomplished this year that is noteworthy.
  • The nominee's impact. Hard work without results might be noble, but it is not award-worthy. What did this person get done? .
  • The nominee's effort. Federal 100 awards are not given for just doing one's job, however important it might be. What did he or she do that went above and beyond? .
  • The nominee's background. What enabled the nominee to step up and make a difference? Federal 100 awards are given for specific accomplishments, not lifetime achievement, but the work of 2013 can be put into a larger context.

Note that these are not long essay questions -- character-count limits allow roughly 200 words for each.

The process

In short, the community nominates, FCW picks the judges, and the judges decide. The timeline, give or take a few days, looks like this:

  • Oct. 1 - The nomination form is published, and 2013 nominations are accepted.
  • Dec. 23 - Final deadline for nominations; the form is taken off-line.Jan. 3 - All nominations are compiled into print binders and electronic dossiers and delivered to the judges for review.
  • Mid-January - Judges gather for a daylong selection meeting; 100 winners and a handful of alternates are chosen.
  • Late January - Winners are verified, and any questions raised during judging are addressed.
  • Jan. 31 - Federal 100 winners are announced.
  • February/March - Profiles of Federal 100 winners are written; Eagle award judges vote on industry and government winners.
  • Mid-March - Federal 100 awards gala.

The intangibles

The Federal 100 judging is a subjective process, one that draws heavily on the expertise of the IT leaders who volunteer their time to read and assess the hundreds of nominations. There are, however, some basic do’s and don'ts, which FCW Editor-in-Chief Anne Armstrong outlined in last year's call for nominations:

  • Focus on an individual’s accomplishment. This is an All-Star Team, not the Hall of Fame award, so don’t dwell on long and faithful service. Be specific about what the project encompassed and what the person did that was extraordinary.

  • It is the accomplishment and not the job title that counts, so describe the person’s contribution and show why the project is important to the community at large.

  • We know teams are important, but this is an individual award. Save your team nominations for the GCN Awards.

  • The Federal 100 award is for work done this year. If the nominee is a previous Federal 100 winner, the accomplishment behind this nomination should be substantially different from the work that was recognized in an earlier year.

  • This is not a popularity contest. Nominate people who have had a significant impact, even if they are not universally liked.

  • Ask before you add someone’s name as a supporting nominator. Every year we have at least one judge who is stunned to find his or her name on a nomination he or she knew nothing about. It almost never has a positive effect on the discussion.

  • If you are nominating an industry person for work done at a government agency, it helps to have government corroboration. If ethical considerations make it difficult to enlist an agency employee as a supporting nominator, try to get third-party substantiation.

Many have asked if FCW could share a "good nomination." Unfortunately for those seeking a case study or recipe, the submitted nominations -- like the judging discussions and even the identities of the nominators -- are treated as confidential.

That does not, however, prevent nominators from sharing their own submissions. And Christopher Dorobek -- former FCW editor-in-chief and a Federal 100 winner himself -- did just that a few years ago. As someone who has covered the community closely and been in the room for multiple Federal 100 judging sessions, Dorobek knows that it takes, so the 2008 nominations he shared (see here, here and here) and his general advice on the Federal 100 are all worth reading.

Other Federal 100 veterans are often willing to share their insights as well. Look at last year's list, and ask around.

Between now and October

Details matter, so start taking notes now. Identify colleagues who deserve the recognition, round up others who will sign on as supporting nominators (a single nomination can have up to five nominators), and gather stats and anecdotes to show what makes this person great.

In the judging process, nominations that come in on "opening day" are not given any advantage over those that are submitted in the final hours of Dec. 23. But those that are written and polished in advance almost always do better than those that were slapped together to beat the deadline -- and would-be nominators who come asking about a late submission in January or February (!) are out of luck till next year. So start early, and spare everyone the holiday stress.

And finally, don't wait until October to let FCW know about good people doing great work. We're always on the lookout for good stories -- and if FCW does choose to cover a successful project or individual, that visibility can only help when the judges are reviewing nominations next January.

Posted by Troy K. Schneider on Apr 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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