Holiday Shows U.S. Government Can Be Fast When It Wants to Close
(Bloomberg) -- The mail is coming, but the Pentagon is closed and parents in Washington D.C. were left with no daycare as the nation adapted to a sudden holiday.
Across the federal government, agencies struggled to determine who would and wouldn’t be working on Friday and employees had to adjust to an unexpected three-day weekend as President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth the first new federal holiday in nearly four decades -- one day before the holiday was to take effect.
The Office of Personnel Management that oversees the civilian workforce of more than 2 million people tweeted Thursday morning that most federal workers would have Friday off with pay. That’s because June 19 -- the formal date commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. -- falls on Saturday. The U.S. Postal Service said it won’t be able to adjust on such short notice and so mail service will continue as normal.
For many federal workers, though, it was like having a snow day in June. Schools and daycares were closed and “everybody had to resubmit their time cards in a hurry,” said Bruce Walker, a senior adviser at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
The federal agency, which investigates major industrial accidents, stands ready to deploy if needed, but most of its 33 employees will be enjoying a day off, Walker said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
He will be one of them. He plans to spend his new-found free time “catching up on a bunch of reading I need to do for work.”
Daycare facilities housed in federal buildings or schools that were closed for the holiday abruptly shut, sending parents in Washington who don’t work for the government racing to make alternative arrangements.
It isn’t easy turning a ship as big as the federal government. Two of the biggest federal operations -- the Postal Service and the Pentagon -- didn’t announce until late Thursday how they planned to proceed.
The Defense Department said in a statement on Thursday night that, as on any other holiday, most of its personnel, military and civilian, would get the day off. The Postal Service said it is continuing operations as normal, and will discuss “future recognition of this significant new holiday” with unions and management associations.
“We are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and our customers are relying on us to deliver our essential services,” the agency said in a statement. “Closing down our operations without providing appropriate time would lead to operational disruptions and be a disservice to our customers and those who rely upon us.”
The State Department said that its headquarters, as well as embassies overseas, would close. The announcement came at the very last minute for workers posted in Asia and the Pacific, some of which are more than 12 hours ahead of Washington time.
While the United Nations normally follows the American holiday calendar, the last-minute designation conflicted with a key vote in the General Assembly, which approved a second five-year term for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Friday morning. The U.S. mission to the UN is officially closed, though diplomats will continue to handle essential operations.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission closed even though financial markets remain open. The Federal Reserve Board announced at the close of business Thursday that its offices in Washington would be closed.
With no official word from the Administrative Office of the Courts, it was left to individual district courts to decide whether to remain open. Federal courts in New Jersey closed, while those in Atlanta remain open, according to announcements on their respective websites. The Supreme Court announced after 6 p.m. Washington time that it would be closed.
Agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, International Trade Commission and Patent and Trademark Office extended deadlines to file documents and fees -- those due on Friday were extended to Monday.
Interior Event Still On
The holiday came too late for some top administration officials and their aides. For instance, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is still set to hold a media event at Acadia National Park in Maine and meet with tribal leaders and elected officials on Friday.
Employees from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration were scheduled to take part in a six-hour meeting being held by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
But late Thursday it was called off.
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