There's no grinch in the White House this year.

Last night, the White House announced that federal employees will get a half-day off from work on Tuesday, Christmas Eve.

In an executive order, President Bush directed that "all executive branch departments and agencies of the federal government shall be closed and their employees excused from duty for the last half of the scheduled workday on Tuesday, December 24, 2002, the day before Christmas."

Bush's order ended the suspense for numerous federal employees who have delayed handing in requests to take vacation time in hopes that Bush would give them an early holiday present. In recent days, e-mails have whisked across the government as employees swapped rumors about Bush's intentions.

Bush's directive marked the second time that he has given employees time off. Last year, Bush excused workers from duty for the entire day of Dec. 24, which fell on a Monday, and effectively provided a four-day holiday break.

As a practical matter, many longtime federal employees take all or most of Christmas week off because of "use it or lose it" vacation rules or because their children are out of school. It's an open secret that workplace productivity slows during the holiday season.

Bush's order may influence Washington area companies and nonprofit groups that follow the government's lead on openings and closings. Regardless, retailers will likely be pleased that the president has given 1.8 million civil service employees an extra four hours for last-minute shopping.

Not all government workers will get time off on Christmas Eve, however.

Postal workers traditionally work on Dec. 24, one of the busiest days of the year for letter carriers. In some cities, express mail will be delivered on Christmas.

A number of Pentagon employees will work the eve and Christmas, partly because the armed forces are on a wartime footing and partly because the Defense Department maintains some level of staffing every day of the year.

In his order, Bush said agency heads may determine whether offices and installations must remain open "for reasons of national security or defense or other public reasons."

Last week, Bush sent his holiday greetings to all federal employees in a letter distributed through the agencies.

"The men and women who dedicate themselves to federal service help strengthen our nation," Bush wrote. "Federal employees carry out countless essential responsibilities that include maintaining critical government services, ensuring economic growth, and supporting efforts to extend peace and freedom around the world."

Retirements Delilah L. O'Brien, a program analyst in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, will retire Jan. 3 after 37 years of federal service.

John E. Budnik, director of human resources for the Transportation Department's inspector general, will retire Jan. 3 after 32 years of federal service.

Barbara Raney, an import-export specialist at the Drug Enforcement Administration, will retire Jan. 3 after more than 35 years of federal service. Raney started her career with the FBI and spent two years in the Watergate special prosecutor's office before joining the DEA.

Talk Shows Kathrene L. Hansen, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Federal Executive Board, and Ted Schwartz, of the Justice Department's Employee Assistance Program, will discuss anxiety and trauma in the federal workplace on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on

Norm Lorentz, chief technology officer at the Office of Management and Budget, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"What Federal Employees Should Tell OPM" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is