As a thank-you gift for a job well done in a very tough year, most of the Social Security Administration's 62,000 employees are going to get a bonus holiday: they won't have to come to work on Nov. 26, the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Most federal holidays are now celebrated on a Monday. But a few, like Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) happen when they happen. This year Thanksgiving will be on Nov. 25, and SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue says non-emergency workers can have the extra day off. It will not be a "holiday" for pay and leave purposes, but workers will get paid their regular rate.
This is a very nice gesture and a good deal. And it may give other agency heads, maybe even President Obama, something to think about for the rest of government.
Astrue told SSA workers that this year they "faced unprecedented workloads and unprecedented hostility from an increasingly stressed public. While many government agencies understandably have moved backward in this climate, you have moved forward."
Like their colleagues at the U.S. Postal Service and the Internal Revenue Service, workers in Social Security field offices and those manning telephones have had a tough year dealing with some of their customers.
People who have lost jobs, been furloughed or taken pay cuts are having tough times. And IRS folks hear about it. A lot, and all the time. Threats to the agency, and to SSA employees, have gone up.
Social Security recipients didn't get a cost of living adjustment this year (2010), and they won't be getting a COLA in January, 2011. Many of them, and that takes in a lot of people, are unhappy. And SSA workers hear about it all the time.
Postal workers who sometimes deliver bad news get it all the time.
Last week someone (person or persons unknown) fired high-powered rifle shots at the Pentagon. Some hit the building, others went through a couple of windows. The shots were fired at about 5 a.m., which is early in many workplaces but not at the Pentagon, which runs a round-the-clock operation. At that time of day, many early-shift workers are in even earlier looking for a parking place.
Government work isn't always the cushy, "what-me-worry?" place many non-feds, disgruntled customers and politicians think it is.
At SSA, the big boss decided to issue a special, tangible shout-out to the troops. Because, as Astrue told workers, "[w]aiting times are down in field offices and tele-service centers. Busy signals are down dramatically on our 800 number. Program integrity work has steadily increased the past three years, and it is paying off with a significant increase in the accuracy of our ... work."
Four years ago, Astrue said, it took Social Security "about 900 DAYS to get a hearing in Atlanta, it's now down to a year, and will continue to get better as the new Covington (GA) office gains momentum."
Cut to the chase. He said, "[I]n appreciation of these accomplishments, I wanted to let you know as early as I could (he sent the message out Oct. 8) that during this holiday season we will close on Friday, Nov. 26 to give you an extra day of rest and reflection with family and friends."
Astrue is likely to get some flack from politicians, who have enjoyed weeks of paid time off this year, who are advocating 10 days of furlough next year for all federal workers. Maybe they can call a special session, requiring them to come back to work, to express their rage.
Any other agency heads got anything to say?
To reach me, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this story originally appeared at http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=20&sid=2089892.