Shutdown II: Hollywood on the Potomac

Friday - 4/8/2011, 4:00am EDT

Imagine a TV sitcom`where the servants revolt. Then, get this, the revolting servants fire or inconvenience the people who pay their 6-figure salaries. Meantime the so-called servants continue to live it up. Think of it as an inmates-running-the-asylum theme.

It's like All My Children meets Days of Our Lives with Charlie Sheen in a leadership role.

OMG. I'm LOL already. My Twitter won't stop!

Although it would have a nationwide appeal, much of the action would take place here in D.C., with lots of stock and liveshots of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. The cast would be drawn from all across America. They would seem very real, if a tad stiff because they are real and a tad stiff. Definitely not a bunch of Hollywood lookers.

For the show's first episode if it makes it, the servants would fire their bosses on a Friday, but require them to come into the office Monday to turn in the equipment they helped pay for, then be given orders to go home and wait for orders to come back.

Oh wait a minute! It's been done. Curses!

The series, called Government Shutdown, ran for 21 days in the winter of 1995-96. It was a flop. It cost the audience millions of dollars in productivity and lost time. Since then the series has been revived half a dozen times although most of the shutdowns were brief.

Still, that was a long time ago and Congress isn't a place for new ideas. So a "new" pilot is in production. If it happens, it will follow the same story line. The White House says 800,000 non-postal federal workers - everybody not considered "excepted" - would be furloughed with no guarantee they will be paid when they come back to work. An even greater number of private sector contractors, who work directly for Uncle Sam, will also be hit. If there is a shutdown, hardly any of them will get make up pay.

The numbers involved in the big shutdown 15 years ago are the same as the pending (maybe) shutdown. But the stakes are much higher this time, and the situation is much more complicated. For one thing Uncle Sam is pretty much broke, so shutting down government at the peak of tax-filing system is not the smartest move. Also thousands of people have loans pending for small businesses and houses, and shutting them off seems a tad counterproductive.

And the high-tech nature of the government has changed dramatically since the 1990s. People who didn't have government issued cell phones, smart phones and other equipment then have them now. And in event of a shutdown, workers must come to the office, return their GI-equipment, then turn around and go home.

Even if this shutdown fizzles, rest assured we will go through this again down the road. Reinventing the wheel may have been invented on Capitol Hill.

Meantime, critics who have seen this show before, have already begun to sound off:

  • "We know nothing, cannot plan, or take a temporary job for two weeks if furloughed because we possess no information, other than a few leaks (big guesses) from lobbyists on the Hill. These three parties are playing 'chicken' with our livelihoods and safety of this country. It is cruel and inhuman behavior. They will be paid, so what in the world do they have to lose? Perfect time for a terrorist attack on a country at war! Or, is that being overlooked too?" NIH employee

  • "We are hearing that in the event that no appropriation bill is passed, we are supposed to report for work at 9 am on Monday (my commute gets me there at 7am) to turn in blackberries and laptops. This means the thousands of us that don't live on a metro line will have get into work, stay 5 minutes and then figure out how to get home. My bus line has already said they will run on regular schedule on Monday regardless. So that means I and fellow riders will be unable to get home until 4:15 in the afternoon. What am I supposed to do until then? This is a waste of gas, unnecessary pollution, wear and tear on employees, and would be working when we have no appropriation. How is this reasonable when we could turn our laptops (I don't have a BB) in on Friday. No wonder morale is low." Forest Service disgruntled employee