The outgoing Bush administration has one final gift for federal employees - a paid holiday on Dec. 26, at a cost of $450 million in holiday pay and salary for lost productivity from those who get the day off, according to one watchdog's estimate.
President Bush on Friday issued an executive order declaring the day after Christmas a holiday and excusing all but essential executive branch employees from work, with pay. The White House says it's the eighth time in a row that the day after Christmas has been granted as a holiday when it's fallen on a Friday. Mr. Bush issued a similar declaration in 2003.
The National Taxpayers Union said the cost in lost productivity and overtime likely will top $450 million. In 2004, when the organization analyzed the cost for the holiday in remembrance of former President Ronald Reagan, the Office of Personnel Management said the overtime costs were $30.7 million and salaries averaged just less than $400 million per day, said Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp.
"Considering that federal pay, and payrolls, have grown since 2004, I imagine the number could be above $450 million," Mr. Sepp said.
"Now, a case can be made that the 'cost' of a day's pay should not be added to the total, since the government would pay people for that day whether it was a holiday or not. Others would argue that taxpayers shelled out for an extra day from which they got no work," Mr. Sepp said.
"The level of controversy depends upon public perceptions of fairness. If a majority of private businesses are letting their workers off for the 26th, there's not likely to be much complaining. On the other hand, if most folks in the private sector are being forced to schlep back into work, or they have to burn one of their own vacation days, they may feel more than a little resentful toward their government counterparts."
OPM was not able to provide newer calculations, but the White House said the vacation is deserved.
"The president appreciates all the federal government employees who work hard to serve the American people. He wants to allow them to spend this four-day period with their family and friends," said Carlton Carroll, a White House spokesman.
Federal employees get 10 standard paid holidays a year in addition to vacation, personal and sick leave. Next year, federal workers will get an additional holiday for Inauguration Day.
The order does not apply to the U.S. Postal Service or to Congress, which makes its own decisions about holidays. The Executive Branch employs about 1.8 million non-Postal Service workers.
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