Lisa Foust was in for a doozy of a Christmas Eve: a full day's work, then piling presents in the car and making a more than five-hour drive home to North Carolina.
Then President Barack Obama gave federal workers an extra day off Dec. 26. That allowed Foust to take a leave day on Wednesday and get a little breathing room around the holiday on Thursday.
"Now that this is here, I don't have to do everything on Christmas Eve," said Foust, 51, who works at the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground. "Man, oh man, I don't have to worry."
Foust is one of hundreds of thousands of federal employees who will get a bonus four-day weekend, thanks to an executive order signed by Obama this month.
That extra day off — which Obama and other presidents have granted around Christmas in years past, when it would create a four-day holiday — follows a petition signed by more than 92,000 federal workers at whitehouse.gov.
The effort fell short of the 100,000 necessary to trigger a response from the White House, but the plea garnered significant attention.
"Federal employees have dealt with pay freezes and furloughs over the past few years," the petition read. "Giving federal employees an extra holiday on Dec. 26th, 2014 would be a good gesture to improve morale of the federal workforce."
The extra day off was welcome news to federal workers, who feel beleaguered after a three-year pay freeze, furloughs and a government shutdown.
"Congress had said 'no' to the working government employees so many times this year," Foust said. "It was good that we finally have a 'yes' from our president."
Mary Theresa Nipwoda, 60, a biology lab technician for the Army's Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, plans to while away her extra day quilting. She said it won't make up for the turmoil that has roiled the federal workforce in recent years or the uncertainty that clouds her once-secure job.
"The sequestration and furlough was very devastating," Nipwoda said. "The time is nice, but when you have to buy things for your family, it doesn't help."
Inez Tyson, who works at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, said she plans to spend the holiday with her husband, who is retired from the military. While she appreciates the extra day, she still chafes at the memory of the shutdown last fall.
"It in no way makes up for what they've done and how they've treated federal employees," Tyson said.
In his order, Obama closed "all executive branch departments and agencies of the federal government" on Friday and excused employees from duty. The exceptions are "for reasons of national security, defense, or other public need."
Closing the government costs roughly $100 million a day, but few expect the federal workforce to be at its most productive on the day after a holiday when many are on leave.
Jan Kolakowski, a chemist at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, planned to take the week off anyway. Now he'll be able to save a day of leave.
"It was a nice surprise," Kolakowski said. He had planned to spend Friday with his daughter and wife. Knowing the entire government will be shut down, he said, "just makes it more relaxing."
William R. "Bill" Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees union, said the extra day off is in keeping with tradition, but some workers this year were still a little surprised.
In a way, Dougan said, the uncertainty of whether the holiday would be granted was the latest frustration for a workforce already concerned about paying more into pensions and seeing salaries increase more slowly than in the past.
"They're appreciative that the president gave them the extra day, don't get me wrong," Dougan said. But "one day off does not make up for all of the losses that they have suffered and will continue to suffer for the rest of their work life and the rest of their retirement."
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that wasn't the point.
"I believe the president is well aware of the sacrifices federal employees have been forced to endure in recent years due to pay freezes, unpaid furlough days and the government shutdown," Kelley said. "Those considerations may have impacted his decision, but I do not think the intent was to make up for those things."