Federal Economics

Tim Cavanaugh passes on an e-mailed note:

According to my calculations, it will cost taxpayers $575 million to give federal workers a day off for Reagan’s funeral on Friday, although the last thing that Reagan would want is for federal workers to get another holiday. Check my math: There are approximately 2.5 million federal workers who earn on average approximately $230 per day in pay and benefits. Thus, 2.5 million times $230 equals $575 million. I admired Reagan, but I’ll be working on Friday and so will my wife. But we work in the private sector and have to work to pay our taxes so that federal workers can have a day off. And don’t you know that all the Democratic unionized government workers will be mourning Reagan’s death.

I’ve seen this argument before in other contexts and always find it baffling. Federal workers are salaried. With the exception of those in law enforcement and others who get overtime pay, they therefore cost exactly the same regardless of how much work they do in a given day. Presumably, all the work that was going to get done is going to get done at some point.

Like Jen, I may or may not get Friday off, as we both work in the national security apparatus (as a DOJ civil servant and a DOD contractor, respectively) where the day off is at agency discretion and have yet to get offical word. I’d obviously just assume have the day off. The hit to the taxpayers is identical either way, though.

As to the point about labor unions, I’d note that the country celebrates “Labor Day” every September by, ironically, taking the day off. How many of them spend their day paying homage to the working man, or whatever the hell it is we’re supposed to be honoring on Labor Day? For that matter, many of the Federal holidays are rather silly. Why do we get a day off to celebrate the fact that a totally arbitrary page on the calendar has turned?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    While I understand the complaint about the “holiday” for federal workers, it seems a little petty. Consider this, the President is my boss*. I would like to think that I would be given the time off to honor my boss upon the occasion of his death. I would like to think that anyone else would like the time off to honor their boss – especially one so beloved.

    *I’m speaking generally of the Office of President. I was in high school when Reagan was in office, so obviously he wasn’t ever my boss.

  2. Teri says:

    Obnoxious grammar question: When you say “I’d obviously just assume have the day off” do you mean “I’d obviously just like to assume that I have the day off” or “I’d obviously just as soon have the day off?”

  3. Teri: how about this as a compromise — I’d rather that federal employees aren’t at their jobs because it’s one day that I can be sure that they don’t figure out new ways to steal and spend more of my money.

    I wish the feds (especially members of Congress) had many, many more days off.

  4. Teri says:

    Mud, that’s a policy question, and an excellent one. I actually agree that for people on salary, getting a day off is not that big a deal, since theoretically they will bestir themselves to do their reqular govt-issue workload in four days instead of the usual five, using the fifth day to complain about how you have to work so much harder before a vacation that it’s almost not worth it . . . .NAH.

    I’m just hoping desperately that there is not a phalanx of younguns out there that have squished “just as soon” (meaning “I’d be just as happy if) into “just assume”, a very sloppy sorta cognate. Sort of like the people who think that “wallah” =is= that French word voila. (Yes, I’m missing the proper diacritical marks. But at least I didn’t spell it like a funky fiddle, making the whole torrid episode even worse!)

  5. Jim says:

    As a DOD contractor myself, I have to work. Our lives are far more constrained then our governmental counterparts. That being said, I remember a few years ago about people complaining about Army Training Holidays….how much that cost. What it didn’t take into account was all those 12 hour days and weekends spent in excercises….etc. I think all this carping about days off is just a mix of envy and ignorance.

  6. Fersboo says:

    One less day for getting actual work done. Salaried or not, the extra day will cost the taxpayers more, ie. opportunity costs (probably the wrong term, but the same concept).

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m an ex-military civilian and I still have relatives that are federal employees and I believe there is a need for having a federal workforce. But, anyone that has had to deal with a governmental agency or has seen them up close and personal-like, knows about the huge amount of bureaucratic waste and un-professionalism of the workforce in general.

  7. jen says:

    I’m almost offended by Fersbo’s generalizations that federal employees are lazy, but I’ve experienced the malaise in government myself, albeit with a vastly different agency (HUD).

    Now that I am a federal employee, I can assure all that most of us do work very hard at our jobs and are equally frustrated by the bureaucracy we encounter that makes our jobs more difficult.

  8. Bill Wallo says:

    I don’t buy the cost approach here either. Salaried employees are paid X amount to do a certain amount of work: the work will still need to get done. The federal judiciary isn’t closing that I’m aware of (which means that in my court our Friday hearings will continue as scheduled) but even on “regular” federal holidays our clerk’s office knows that if they have Monday off, that just means more work on Tuesday. And they still have to get the work done in order to get their salary.

    Let’s say that the judiciary does suddenly close on Friday: from a taxpayer standpoint, it means very little. The work that the judge, myself, or the clerk’s office would have otherwise performed will still have to be done, albeit on another day, and people will have to work harder to catch up. We aren’t getting paid extra; we’re just shifting around when the work gets done. There may be costs associated with doing so, but these costs aren’t directly attributable to salaries.

  9. kate says:

    Give me a break. It’s just another holiday for federal workers on the backs of the taxpayers…….I can see if some things in D.C. need to shut down to facilitate the funeral etc., but the post office in Frenchman Bayou, Arkansas…….? I don’t think so.

  10. mailmansgirls says:

    My husband works for the USPS YEs he has the day off Did he ask for it NO But it does not cost you more to have him be at home On sat when he goes back to work he and all the others will be busting their hump to do twice as much work in the 8 hours. So he loses not you GIVE ME A BREAK You are seem a lille green horned if you know what I mean You all I am sure enjoyed Memorial Day and I bet half have no idea why that day was put aside and layed around the house glued to the tube