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An extra day off

While most federal employees are joining their families around the Thanksgiving table today, tomorrow they'll be looking ahead to the next day off, Christmas. Or could it be Christmas Eve? This year, Christmas falls on a Tuesday. It is, of course, already a federal holiday. Traditionally-but not always-the White House has given federal employees an extra day off when Christmas falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday. So it's possible-but not certain--that President Bush will give federal employees the day off on Monday, Dec. 24. Since 1956, Christmas has fallen on a Tuesday six times. According to Office of Personnel Management records, here's what happened each of those times:
  • In 1956, President Eisenhower issued a memorandum on Nov. 23 that granted federal employees a full day off on Christmas Eve.
  • In 1962, President Kennedy issued an executive order on Nov. 21 that granted federal employees a full day off on Christmas Eve.
  • In 1973, President Nixon issued an executive order on Dec. 13 that granted federal employees a full day off on Christmas Eve.
  • In 1979, President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order on Dec. 11 that granted federal employees a full day off on Christmas Eve.
  • In 1984, President Reagan's Office of Personnel Management Director, Donald Devine, issued a memorandum on Dec. 3 that made employees come to work on Christmas Eve but allowed supervisors to let workers leave up to three hours early.
  • In 1990, President George H. W. Bush issued an executive order on Dec. 17 that gave federal workers a half day off on Christmas Eve.
While Reagan was a Grinch in 1984, he did give federal employees an extra holiday in 1986, when Christmas fell on a Thursday, giving workers the day off on Dec. 26. President Clinton did the same on Friday Dec. 26, 1997. The big question now is when President Bush will decide whether to give federal employees the day off on Christmas Eve. In 1997, President Clinton signed the executive order granting the extra day off a month in advance, on Nov. 25. In 1986, though, President Reagan waited until Dec. 22 to announce the extra day off. For federal employees, the sooner the announcement is made, the better, so they can make their vacation plans accordingly. No employees would be charged annual leave for Dec. 24 if they scheduled it before Bush gave them the day off. But if employees have any use-or-lose leave, the extra holiday will make a difference in whether they need to take an extra day off before the end of the leave year, which is Jan. 12, 2002. If employees schedule use-or-lose leave for Dec. 24, and then President Bush gives federal employees the day off, and then they can't reschedule the use-or-lose leave, they'll have to forfeit it. There are special rules for employees on compressed or flexible schedules. Click on the link in the right-hand column to see how those employees were affected in 1997 when President Clinton designated Dec. 26 an extra day off. Some federal employees, of course, will have to work on Dec. 24 no matter what President Bush does. The good news for them, if Bush does give most federal employees the day off, is that those who work will get holiday premium pay. Holiday premium pay is an extra 100 percent of an employee's regular rate of basic pay. How will Bush make his decision? He may follow in the footsteps of his father, who gave employees a half-day off, rather than a full day off, on Christmas Eve in 1990, because of the weak economy and the tensions in the Persian Gulf. Now we have a weak economy and a war in Afghanistan. Then again, he may decide that it's best for labor relations to give a full day off, as so many Presidents before him have. Or he could follow in Reagan's footsteps in 1984 and make employees come in for most of the day; Reagan based his decision on the fact that the budget was about to be cut. With the budget almost certainly running into deficit in fiscal 2002, a full day of work on Christmas Eve is a real possibility. Of course, delivering such bad news could fall to Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James, just as that thankless job fell to Donald Devine in 1984. So starting tomorrow, keep up with for the latest on the fate of Christmas Eve. For today, have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Brian Friel is founder of One Nation Analytics, an independent research, analytics and consulting firm for the federal market.

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