Sheer Madness

Shear Madness is one of the longest-running plays in the history of the American Theater, but there is another comedy. This one involving the pay of federal wor...

Shear Madness is a comedy. A play. A hairdresser whodunnit show. It is said to be the second longest running play in American history. Right now you can see it in Washington, Boston or Chicago. Maybe other cities too.

Shear Madness is set in a fancy hair stylist shop in D.C.’s Georgetown section. Somebody in the shop gets killed. And with zany, madcap participation from the audience, and many topical political jokes, the killer is finally found. Because audience questions determine how the police “investigation” goes, you can get a different “killer” every night.

(I’ve seen the show a couple of times. Loved it. But since I equate audience participation with having one’s toenails pulled out, I was one of the silent majority in the audience).

Sheer Madness is another kind of show. It’s sort of a say-what? quasi-comedy (some would say farce) starring Congress, the President, and you.

In Shear Madness (the hairdresser one) you know pretty much how it goes. Only the outcome is in doubt until the end.

In Sheer Madness (the civil service one) millions of dollars, and future pension benefits, are at stake. The outcome determines the size of the January pay raise for most of the government’s 1.2 million white collar employees.

Sheer Madness (also known as FEPCA) has been running in DC, and off Broadway, since 1993. It is the bipartisan law that, over time, was intended to narrow the “gap” between same-job pay in the federal and private sector. Like Shear Madness you know something is going to happen by a certain time. But you don’t know what because it depends on audience (in this case Congressional) participation. Sheer Madness pits the President (Republican or Democrat) against Congress (Republican or Democrat).

The role Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush each took was to give feds a smaller percentage pay hike than that called for by the FEPCA formula. Congress won (giving feds a bigger raise) 13 of the last 14 years.

The opening act (and the final act under President Bush) opened yesterday. The President said he wants a to give white collar feds a 2.9 percent raise in January 2009. Uniformed military personnel would get 3.4 percent.

Pro-fed politcians and federal unions have resumed their usual roles. They are demanding pay raise parity between civilian feds and the military. They want both to get 3.9 percent. Those are the numbers to watch.

Because this is an election year (have you noticed?) Congress won’t be on the job much. Look how many Senate and House members are, or were, out running for president.

As good media types we will try our best to hype the pay story in the coming months. Report it as a horse race, a football game, or a track meet. But it isn’t that.

We all know the fix is in. There will be a raise. We just don’t know the magic number.

Nearly Useless Factoid

Valentine’s Day is coming. If you’re male and haven’t found your valentine yet, take heart in knowing that the older you get, the better your chances will be. According to the US Census Bureau, there are 120 single men (either never married, widowed or divorced) who are in their 20s for every 100 single women of the same ages. But wait! The pool drops to 34 single men for every 100 single women of the same ages by the time we hit 65 and over. George Burns once acknowledged that he mostly dated younger women, pointing out that “I would go out with women my age, but there are no women my age.”

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