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It's that time of year again. Time to start wondering whether President Bush will give federal employees extra time off during the holidays.

If you're a gambler, bet no.

First of all, the president never gives federal employees a free holiday on the day after Thanksgiving. It's just not done, according to Office of Personnel Management records.

When presidents give federal workers extra time off, it's usually near Christmas: on Christmas Eve when Christmas itself falls on a Tuesday and on Dec. 26 when Christmas falls on a Thursday. For example, in 2001, Christmas fell on a Tuesday and President Bush gave federal workers Monday off (Christmas Eve). In 1997, when Christmas fell on a Thursday, President Clinton gave workers the day off on Friday, Dec. 26.

When Christmas falls on a Friday, workers sometimes get a few extra hours off on Christmas Eve. When Christmas was on a Friday in 1998, for example, President Clinton gave workers a half-day off on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24.

Bah, Hump-bug

This year, Christmas falls on a Wednesday. When Christmas is on hump-day, federal workers are usually expected to come to work the rest of the week or take vacation time.

But not always. In 1946 and 1957, Christmas fell on a Wednesday. In each of those years, the president gave federal employees a half-day off on Christmas Eve.

However, 1957 was the last year in which workers got extra time off when Christmas fell on a Wednesday.

Christmas also fell on a Wednesday in 1963, 1968, 1974, 1985, 1991 and 1996. In each of those years, federal workers had to come to work on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas. Based on 40 years of tradition, the overriding precedent for President Bush this year is to keep the government open every day but Wednesday during the week of Christmas.

That's the bad news for this year. The good news is that, thanks to leap year maneuvering of the calendar, Christmas won't fall on a Wednesday again until 2013.

In 2003, Christmas is on a Thursday, and there's much more precedence for an extra day off then.

What About New Year's Eve?

Usually, the only time federal employees get the day off on New Year's Eve is when New Year's Day falls on a Saturday. Then the federal government celebrates New Year's Day on Friday, which is, of course, New Year's Eve.

Federal workers almost never get extra time off at New Year's. The last time they did was in 1973, when President Nixon gave employees a full day off on Dec. 31. Christmas and New Year's Day both fell on a Tuesday that year. Federal employees got half days off on New Year's Eve in 1957, when New Year's Day, 1958 was on a Wednesday; and 1953, when New Year's Day, 1954, was on a Friday. When New Year's Day, 1955 was on a Saturday, employees who usually worked on Saturday got a half-day off on Friday, New Year's Eve, 1954.

Will federal workers get extra time off this New Year's Eve, which falls on a Tuesday? Bet no.

Fun Facts

Here are some fun facts about federal holidays.

  • Usually there are 10 federal holidays. Sometimes, federal workers get an 11th holiday, most often when Christmas falls on a Tuesday or Thursday. Federal employees who work in Washington, D.C., Montgomery and Prince Georges counties in Maryland, Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria in Virginia get an 11th holiday every four years-Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. It's conceivable that Washington-area feds could have 12 holidays in one year. In 1969, federal employees got two extra holidays because it was an inauguration year and President Nixon granted all federal workers the day off on Friday, Dec. 26. But at that time, federal workers only got eight standard holidays per year.
  • The official name of King Day is "Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr." Official names of federal holidays are spelled out in Title 5, Section 6103(a) of the United States Code. King was born on Jan. 15. The federal government celebrates his birthday on the third Monday of January each year. The first Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in 1986.
  • The official name of Presidents Day is "Washington's Birthday." Previously celebrated on Feb. 22 each year, the holiday was moved to the third Monday in February in 1971. Most people refer to it as Presidents Day, however, and most schools use the occasion to teach students about all presidents, or at least about Washington and Lincoln, both of whom were born in February. Some states, such as Oregon, have officially designated the day as Presidents Day.
  • Four holidays are set by date: New Year's on Jan. 1, Independence Day on July 4, Veterans Day on Nov. 11 and Christmas Day on Dec. 25. Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October in 1971, but moved back to Nov. 11 in 1978 after veterans groups protested. Nov. 11 marks the end of World War I, and veterans long celebrated their day on Nov. 11 (originally Armistice Day). Veterans didn't want the holiday moved just so people could have a long weekend. In 2003, Veterans Day will be on a Tuesday.
  • When the four date-governed holidays fall on a Saturday, the federal government celebrates them on the preceding Friday. When those holidays fall on a Sunday, they are celebrated on the following Monday. That goes for Veterans Day, as with the three others.
  • Five holidays always occur on Monday: King Day on the third Monday of January; Washington's Birthday on the third Monday in February; Memorial Day on the last Monday in May; Labor Day on the first Monday in September; and Columbus Day on the second Monday in October. Washington's Birthday and Memorial Day were moved from Feb. 22 and May 30, respectively, to Mondays, in 1971. Columbus Day became an official holiday in 1971 as well.
  • Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November. Though the federal government doesn't give the next day as a holiday, some state governments, including those of California, Texas and Maryland give their employees time off the day after Thanksgiving.
  • Officially, New Year's Day has an apostrophe. Veterans Day does not.

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

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