When Will You Be In The Office (1959)?

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Today’s Federal work environment features the flextime and flexplace policies that have evolved over the past several decades.  As a result, few current U.S. Government employees remember when agencies had fixed work hours.  Before the flex policies went into effect, start and end times for offices in Washington, DC, were staggered to spread out the traffic and avoid having everybody descend upon and leave the city at one time.  And while today, there are 11 federal holidays, many of which are celebrated on Mondays, this has not always been the case.

An odd diplomatic exchange from 1959 reminds us of the old days and ways.  On March 30, 1959, the embassy of Pakistan requested “information regarding the office hours and holidays observed by Departments of the United States Government.”  The Department of State responded on “tax day” in 1959 with the following lists of hours and the 8 holidays then on the Federal calendar:

In subsequent years, work hours and holiday observances changed. 

  • In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that took effect on January 1, 1971.  That act moved celebration of Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day to a Monday and added Columbus Day to the list of Federal holidays, also to be celebrated on a Monday.  In 1978, the observance of Veterans Day was returned to November 11.  Later, more holidays were added to the calendar, including for the birthday of Martin Luther King and the Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Today, these are the Federal holidays established by law and when they are celebrated:

  • New Year’s Day (January 1)
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Third Monday in January)
  • Washington’s Birthday (Third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
  • The Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982, “authorized a versatile and innovative work scheduling program for use in the Federal Government”.  Another major step on the road to the current flextime program came in 1994, when President Bill Clinton directed that Executive Branch departments and agencies “establish programs that encourage and support the expansion of flexible family-friendly work arrangements, including flexible and compressed work schedules.” [Quotations are from the OPM website.]

Source: Embassy of Pakistan to the Department of State, Diplomatic Note F. 46/59/11, March 30, 1959, and  Department of State to the Embassy of Pakistan, Diplomatic Note, April 15, 1959, file 100/3-3059, 1955-59 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State. 

When the author began working, archival records in the Washington, DC, area were split between the Main Archives Building in downtown Washington and the Washington National Records Center in Suitland, MD.  DC hours were 8:45 AM to 5:15 PM and Suitland hours were 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM.

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