/ Dan Lewis / 4 am Mon, Oct 20 2014
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  • Budget Cuts aboard Air Force One

    Budget Cuts aboard Air Force One

    Dan Lewis explores the deep, dark world... of presidential barbering.

    In May of 1993, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton decided he needed a little grooming. While aboard Air Force One and sitting on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, President Clinton got a haircut. The price was about $200 and required that two of LAX's four runways shut down during the ordeal. According to initial reports, the haircut caused massive delays, but that turned out not to be true. But regardless, President Clinton was widely mocked for his expensive, not-quite-in-flight reverse-visit to the salon.

    He could have saved a lot of trouble by using the Senate's barber instead.

    (Yes, the Senate has its own barber shop.)

    Officially, it's called "Senate Hair Care Services." It's in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building, the oldest of the three buildings where members of the Senate and their staff are based. The barber shop opened in 1859 (at a different location) and provided haircuts, shaves, and the like free-of-charge to Senators until 1979, when someone realized how ridiculous that was and decided to charge Senators instead of taxpayers for these services. At around the same time, this odd little department of the Federal government opened its doors to the public -- previously, you needed to win a election in order to be worthy of its scissors -- and it remains open today. As of 2013, a haircut -- no shampoo --- cost $20; a perm would run you $75. The barbershop has three reviews on Foursquare, two of which recommend a stylist named Meena. (She doesn't seem to work there any more.)

    That's a reasonable if not high price for such service, which would suggest that Senate Hair Care Services runs free and clear of the public dole. But, not quite. In 2012, the Senate barbershop needed and received a $300,000 "bailout," to quote TIME, due to cost overruns. That may be due to the salaries then-paid to the stylists -- at least one made in the realm of $75,000 per year, nearly three times that of others in similar jobs at other, non-government barbershops near the Capitol. (The staff's salaries are public record, if you'd like to check.)

    More recently, the barbershop has been targeted for budget cuts and privatization. In 2013, according to the New York Times, many of the stylists accepted a buyout and were laid off due to sequestration -- a series of automatic budget cuts across government agencies -- and were instead replaced by private contractors. The Washington Post notes that the Hair Care Services used to offer manicures and shoe shines, but both of those services were swept away in the last two years as the barbershop tried to cut costs (as well as hair).

    It's unclear based on reports if the Hair Care department takes appointments (and my two attempts at calling them failed -- one was after hours, and an automated voice invited me to leave a message; another resulted in a busy signal). If you want to give it a try, you can reach them at (202) 224-4560.

    Bonus Fact: The House of Representatives used to have a barbershop, too. But in the mid-1990s, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich privatized it, as the New York Times noted.

    From the Archives: The Candy Desk: Another secret of the Senate.

    Related: A $130, reusable, haircut.

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