Let’s Work on Columbus Day


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If we were analyzing federal holidays in a Six Sigma class, we’d cross off Columbus Day right away.

How can the federal government get more bang for its buck? Well, easy…let’s work on Columbus Day.

Does this mean eliminating a national holiday? No. Just writing off Columbus Day as a federal holiday. Columbus Day would stick around, but we’d work.

The truth is we serve the public, and there’s a popular perception that we are insulated from the Great Recession. As with most things, the truth is in the gray area.

Lots of us get it. I was out of work for a long time. It was painful, demeaning and life sucked. Some of us earn less money than we used to. Some of us support tuition increases for children or help our elderly parents.

But some of us don’t get the pain.

Eliminating Columbus Day as a federal holiday is a small sacrifice. Sure, it doesn’t save $5.5 billion by furloughing most federal workers for 2 weeks. However, it shows the public that we’re making sacrifices too. I’m sure it’s not the only sacrifice we’ll be asked to make, but it’s a good start.

Besides, it’s Columbus Day. Who really celebrates Columbus Day?

I think Owen Wilson said it best in You, Me and Dupree: “Incidentally, what’s your policy on Columbus Day?”


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Andrew Krzmarzick

Sterling – This should become a movement. We take our vacations in June-August, September flies by and already includes Labor Day…so one great way to save some major money is to eliminate Columbus Day.

For those who want to retain the benefit of that vacation time (wouldn’t do much for cost savings), give me back that day in November of December.

You’re onto something here, though…

Andrew Krzmarzick

Good point, Peter.

New Year’s Day – Gotta keep this…63% of America is hung over 😉
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. – I’d advocate for celebrating this one in February as part of Black History month or “American Diversity Day”
Washington’s Birthday – I could skip this one
Memorial Day – Honoring our soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice…don’t even touch it…sacred, solemn time.
Independence Day – Our national birthday…gotta honor birthdays.
Labor Day – nice demarcation point for summer’s end…but could be another one to chop as most of us just took time in June-August for vacations
Columbus Day – Let’s cut it and save some money.
Veterans Day – Celebrate the survivors as we honored the fallen?
Thanksgiving Day – I’m spending the day watching football and gorging myself regardless of whether you give me this day off. 🙂
Christmas Day – I’d flex this one and make it applicable to whenever you are celebrating your religious holiday this time of year…so wouldn’t have to be December 24, but could be taken by others earlier…or later.

That should stir the pot…

Stephen Peteritas

I’ll take this a complete opposite direction: We need to reorganize federal holiday’s around work days where no one actually works. For instance: move some of the small fed holidays to that thursday, friday in march where we all know everyone is watching basketball on their computers or in the break room.

Angelo Serra

From a government perspective, we could probably do without it. From a personal perspective, it is celebrated in some ethnic circles and we do celebrate it here in Columbus, Ohio.

Jaime Gracia

Sterling – Let’s Work on Columbus Day should be retitled to “Let’s Just Work.” It is infuriating the unwritten rule of government operations that there is a shutdown between Thanksgiving and Jan 4th. Little gets done during this period, for some reason. There are only two holidays in that period, yet it has been my experience that they are the most unproductive 40+ days of the year. Never understood that.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

This really won’t end up saving any money. I would much rather see Columbus Day as a designated volunteer day. If everyone volunteers to help those less fortunate on that day, they can gain a lot of goodwill with the communities where we live.

By the way, there are many Federal employees who DO work on Columbus Day, including Transportation Security Officers, Military Members, Secret Service Uniformed Officers, Customs and Border Protection Officers, etc. Let’s dispense with both inaccurate generalities and empty gestures.

Laura Strohbach

For Jaime, I do not know what agencies you may have worked for, but with 30 years in 3 different federal agencies, the offices where I worked never experienced a slow down during the Thanksgiving to Jan 4 period. If there are fewer people around during that period, it is because managers did not sufficiently manage their staff, especially the ones who are in the 8 hour leave category, so that they took their leave throughout the year and were not pushing up the use-or-lose ceiling. For those people still around when everyone else is trying to use their leave, we usually get a lot more done because there are fewer around to make other demands on our time. And with all the holidays, I am not going to be a Grinch because people want to take that time to fly across country to reunite with their families. And even if those folks are on leave, chances are very high these days that they are still chiming in on BB and working while on leave.

Dennis Edward Byrne

It’s also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. So when the Canadian government workers give up their Thanksgiving Day I’ll give up Columbus Day.
This may just be the dumbest discussion string I’ve ever participated in.
I should be ashamed of myself for participating and just come into work on Columbus Day whether you all do or not. 🙂

Eric Erickson

If the public actually gave us credit for it, that would be great. As it is, it would be an empty gesture that goes unnoticed.

Bashing the govt is all the rage, and Federal workers are going to fall into that basket no matter what we do.


I like Terry’s volunteering idea. It’s more visible to the American public than just going in to the office AND it might get people started volunteering more often! Also, for a lot of us, I’m not sure it would be worth going in on Columbus Day if you didn’t get a good portion of your office to participate.

But, I’m really liking this volunteering idea… Maybe GovLoop should sponsor a government holiday volunteer program!

Steve Radick

Interesting thread here, but I’ll take a contrary stance and compare (as I like to do) to the sports industry. There’s a slippery slope involved with “giving back a holiday” or “giving back some salary” that impacts everyone in the government (or union). If you do this, no matter how well-intentioned you are, you now open the doors to the lawmakers (or the owners of the teams) that this is something that can be done. Once you volunteer this up, even if it’s just for Columbus Day, it becomes a LOT easier to ask you to give up other holidays too. I’m not saying this is what will or should happen – just that that’s why the unions get so involved whenever a player suggests that he’ll give up 10% of his current contract to “help out the team.” They know that’s a slippery slope that impacts the rest of the league’s players because it sets that precedent of, “well, you did it back then to help out the team when you wanted to win a championship and now that we’ve managed this team into the ground and we can’t make payroll, we need you to take another pay cut so we can build this new stadium.”

I’m just pointing out there are huge implications for something like this, and while it might win some goodwill in the beginning, might open up fed employees to even more problems in the future.

Gina Robson

Andrew, I beg to differ on Labor Day. I think the vast majority of us work, and work hard, and therefore should be honored. I also look on it as a way to honor and remember the laborers who have shaped our country in the past.

As someone else mentioned, bashing government workers is the “in” thing to do now, so saying we’ll work Columbus Day will only invite arguments about how much money it’s costing to light and heat all those occupied federal buildings…

I worked for a private sector employer who gave us a certain amount of floating holidays each year and it was at our discretion when to use them. Most of us worked the January and February holidays (what a lovely commute with all the govies off!); lots of Jewish staff used holiday leave during the fall High Holidays; Roman Catholic staff used time at Christmas and Easter; parents of school-age children used theirs for teacher work days. The benefit was that in fact we were more fully staffed since it was rare that _everyone_ was off at the same time, and of course we got to use our holiday leave at a time that was convenient to us.

That might be something to consider.

Rick Young

Rather than having the government take on the additional expense of running offices on Columbus Day (A/C, electricity, servers, etc…) why not continue to close the office and government workers do not get paid for that day, treat it as an unpaid holiday. Oh wait… I’m already doing that. I work for one of the county government agencies that, due to budget cuts, require employees take unpaid holidays for 7 of our 9 scheduled holiday days. Plus, Columbus Day isn’t one of our county holidays, we already work on Columbus Day.

Charles Ade

Andrew, I also beg to differ on petaining to Columbus Day. I think the vast majority of us work, and work hard, and therefore should be honored at least this one extra day off to catch some fresh air.

Those of us who are in the 1102 contracting series have been working sacrificial hours on our own time most let alone the extra hours at the end of the fiscal year. I was at work till 1:00 AM the other mornoing and working most nights late till 9:00 PM without overtime. Therefore this extra time is equal to about 10 Columbus Days for ome just since Labor Day.

All those who want to give up their Columbus Day is OK. But hey, cut the 11002 series and related acquisition folks a break. Due to extensive cutbacks and attrition, most of us in contracting throughout the federal Government are working an average of full 10 hour days through out the year.

Kerry McCollough

How about being fully engaged when we are at work? How about commitment to performance outcomes and transparent budgets that contribute to true accountability? Do we earn our keep–which includes our time off? Do we add value to the level of service our agencies provide? A healthy dose of self examination is important to my ability to serve my customers.

Rich Mariner

Being an American of Italian heritage I think everyone should have Columbus Day off. A great man that did something comparable to the Apollo missions. The historical revisionists just need to live with it.

Tony Camilli

This discussion piqued my interest because Columbus Day was celebrated in my youth as an Italian holiday (being Italian-American myself), but really Columbus’ accolades represent not Italy, or Spain, or any ethnic group. Rather Columbus Day as a holiday is recognition that America was founded by a bold man who dared to dream (and sail) farther than others had done before. According to Wikipedia, Columbus Day is frowned upon in some parts of the counrty (most Native Americans) because Columbus represented an atrocity of ambition gone wrong.

I don’t think getting or not getting another federal holiday makes any difference in the long run when our government’s fiscal imbalances are much more structural in nature. And giving federal recognition for Columbus’ decision to connect an old world with a new world may have been myopic, but looking at what he accomplished in his era and taking a cue to move beyond our own comfort zones is really the takeaway for me.

I for one am taking Columbus’ advice and making a bold career move in October. I recommend taking a look inside yourselves and doing a similar inventory.

Lori Windle

I like many of the ideas put forth in this forum for reorganizing the federal holiday structure entirely. For those who complain about the utility bills we would generate by coming into work, I think that if somehow weighed against the work produced, it should make it worthwhile. Any actuary types out there who want to do a cost-benefit analyis?? I am all for giving people the option to work on Columbus Day. As an American Indian, I feel ashamed to take a holiday that was paid for with my people’s blood.

Hannah Zerphey

Looking at my most recent earnings and leave statement I noticed that I worked 45 hours of overtime this summer. While I recognize that most private companies do not offer compensation for overtime is it not still a sacrifice? I believe that Government workers sacrifice every day, just as private workers do and to ask for more (Columbus day, two weeks of non-consecutive unpaid leave) is asking too much. Everyone has the choice and opportunity to work for the Government – we are not an elite, specially selected core of individuals chosen at birth. This fact goes unrecognized and forgotten by those that like to blame Government employees for all their ills.

Marco Morales

A federal holiday is a public holiday recognized by the U.S. government. That means we “federal” employees are authorized to enjoy the day off. What I can’t understand is why banks everywhere are also closed. Banks and their employees aren’t “federal” employees, are they? There’s something un-American about that … Hmmmmm

Shanika Whitehurst

I would argue that we are sacrificing because we do work for the public. I for one left private industry to become a public servant and took a hefty paycut and was out of work 9 months to do so. I don’t feel as if we should be punished because there is a horrible recession that quite frankly, we as government employees did not cause. It saddens me people are out of work but they have opportunities just like I did to become a federal employee. When you look at Columbus Day just take it away as a holiday…it is a meaningless day anyways and most people work on it..but don’t justify it as some gesture of giving back to the American public because we do that on a daily basis.

David Foster

(Your Six Sigma hook aside, I really don’t see it), as the work force evolves, tradition is forgotten. Your statement “Who really celebrates Columbus Day?”, reflects apathy and a lost connection to our heritage and perhaps an influence of modern sentiment which favors a “perceived injustice” inflicted upon the native inhabitants who had migrated to the Americas long before norsemen or Columbus. Conquering forces throughout history inflicted huge “injustice” on current inhabitants. I could write an essay on this, but I’ll end with “I celebrate Columbus Day and feel blessed to be born in this country that developed under western ideals, led by a certain explorer so long ago.”

Matthew DuFresne

I would be willing to work that day, especially in light of current circumstances, as a way to show tax payers that I too am going through some of what the general public is experiencing. As a civill servant I believe it is important to set a good personal example so that the general public can see that most of us really do care in government.

Hannah Zerphey

I always find it interesting when Government workers talk about the “tax payer” as we all pay taxes ourselves…


@ Hannah: Good point! My husband (who also works for the federal government and has deployed twice as a Marine Reservist) and I have discussed this several times. We both think that government and military employees should have their taxes waived (or at least significantly reduced). Especially with the difficulties the federal government has been having getting new employees. It would be a great incentive to help us attract the best and brightest! And it wouldn’t be all taxes; federal employees would have federal taxes waived on their income as federal employees, but would still pay taxes on anything else you would normally pay taxes on, as well as state and local taxes. States, counties, and cities could do the same thing for their employees. It could really help build our workforce and I don’t think it would actually take that much away from the government’s tax income, as I’m pretty sure less than 5% of employed US citizens work for the government. (I had trouble finding an exact percentage, but that based on one I found for 2007 that included state and local, as well as federal and military.)

Tony Camilli

@ Tara. Taxes waived for Feds? Really? I didn’t interpret Hannah’s post as suggesting as much, but I think your post should be addressed nonetheless. As both a Fed and military reservist I think this is a disastrous idea. Let’s face it, Feds are currently Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of many anti-government groups, including the Republican party. Could you imagine that outrage over such an idea that Feds get decent pay, job security, and don’t pay federal taxes?

And while I agree that sometimes the government has a hard time competing with the private sector for qualified people, now is not one of those times. We recently advertised for a position in my office and received 500 applications for 1 position. The applicants had ivy-league schools plastered all over their applications and great experience in both private and public sectors.

Your idea is laudable during a booming economic period, but in Great Depression, Part II, such an idea is political suicide …

Michele Costanza

Maybe just as many people should work on St. Patrick’s Day instead of calling in sick and drinking green beer. (Just kidding.)

I like the sentiment behind the idea of working instead of taking the day as a federal holiday. However, I’m not a fed but a contractor. This is the first time I’ve had Columbus Day to take the day as a holiday.

I plan on generating some money into Boston’s economy by visiting the city for the day, my first visit to Boston.

Also, my family origins are from an area of Kansas City, Missouri known as Columbus Park (you will know you are in Columbus Park when you see the fire hydrants painted Green, White, and Red for the Italian flag, and smell the food from Garozzo’s Italian restaurant, and hear the church bells from Holy Rosary). I was the recipient of a scholarship in 8th grade from the Knights of Columbus for writing an essay titled, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” I believe that the Knights of Columbus rallied for support recognizing Columbus Day as a federal holiday in the 1930s.

Columbus is a part of our American history.


@Toni: I did not intend to imply that that was what Hannah was suggesting. I’m not trying to put words in anyone’s mouth. 🙂

You’re right. It would not be a popular step to take right now and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think such a thing would ever happen. However, I do think it would be a good idea, in general. Of course, I think a lot of things would be a good idea, even though I know they will never happen (i.e – mandatory driving tests every few years; 2 years of required gov’t service for all citizens). However, I also don’t think that govvies are going to stop being “Public Enemy #1 any time soon. I’ve been hearing people complain about the government and government employees since I was a kid. Recession or no – people like to complain about Feds.

I’m glad to hear that your agency is doing well. It doesn’t seem quite that way at my agancy. We’ve got some great new employees, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think we’re getting enough to fill the positions of all the people getting ready to retire.

P.S. – I was wondering how long it would take for someone to respond to my outrageous suggestion! 😉

Sterling Whitehead

I struck a nerve.

Still, I really do believe Columbus Day is a joke holiday. From this thread and the one at GovExec, I think very few people really celebrate Columbus Day.

I think most opposition simply comes from holding onto a holiday.

As for the history argument, I get it. I grew up in Colonial Williamsburg — I’m probably more of a history fanatic than most people on GovLoop. But holidays belong to the living, not the dead. That means the living determine what the holidays mean.