Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

In Surprise Move, Trump Gives Federal Employees Christmas Eve Off

The move splits from most recent precedent when Christmas fell on a Wednesday.

In a surprise move, President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive granting most federal employees an extra day off on Christmas Eve: 

“All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall be closed and their employees excused from duty on Tuesday, December 24, 2019, the day before Christmas Day.”

It was a gift few expected. Presidents do not typically grant extra vacation time when Christmas falls on a Wednesday.

Christmas Eve is not a federal holiday, but the president can issue an executive order to give federal workers the day or a half day off if he chooses. In his executive order, Trump directed agency heads to determine what employees needed to work “for reasons of national security, defense, or other public need,” but the vast majority of federal workers will have the day off.

In 2013, the last time Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday, President Obama did not opt to give federal employees extra time off. This was “consistent with historical precedent when Christmas has fallen on a Wednesday,” an OPM official told Government Executive, at the time. “The government has remained open on Christmas Eve for six of the last nine times since 1946 that Christmas Day has fallen on a Wednesday.” One exception was in 2002 when President George W. Bush gave employees a half-day.

Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, told an audience of senior executives Tuesday evening that President Franklin Roosevelt was the last president to give federal employees the day off when Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday. 

Last year, President Trump issued an executive order on Dec. 18 to close federal offices on Christmas Eve (a Monday) to give employees a four-day weekend. The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22, so some employees were already furloughed or working without pay by Christmas. 

But this year, a shutdown seems highly unlikely. The White House said President Trump would sign the $1.4 trillion spending bills passed by the House on Tuesday that would boost funding for most agencies and provide a 3.1% pay raise to civilian feds.