President gives federal employees extra Christmas holiday

President Bush on Tuesday ordered executive branch agencies to close on Friday, Dec. 26, giving most federal employees a four-day Christmas weekend.

Agency heads still have the authority to order some essential employees to their posts on the day after Christmas, according to an executive order issued Tuesday.

The decision to award the extra holiday came earlier than last year when President Bush waited till Dec. 19 to award a half-day off for Christmas Eve, which fell on a Tuesday. But in 2001, Bush made the announcement a little earlier, on Dec. 6, awarding employees a full day off on Christmas Eve, which fell on a Monday that year. Generally, when Christmas falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, as it does this year, presidents give federal employees an extra full day off.

Employees can reschedule any annual leave they have scheduled for Dec. 26. No employees will be charged annual leave for that day. If employees scheduled use-or-lose leave for Dec. 26 and can't reschedule it, they'll have to forfeit it. For most employees, use-or-lose leave must be used by Jan. 10, 2004.

Now, how about an extra day after New Year's Day, which falls on Thursday this year? Don't hold your breath. The last time feds got an extra day at New Year's 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 fell on a Saturday, employees who usually worked on Saturday got a half-day off on Friday, New Year's Eve 1954.

Brian Friel contributed to this report.