First, I feel compelled to say that any government agency as big in the hearts of its countrymen as the Trans-portation Security Administration deserves some points for actively seeking feedback.
And there is no more free-flowing an arena for that as the blogosphere.
So behold: The Evolution of Security.
Just the thought of the TSA doing a blog made me and countless others chuckle. Here’s but one example of its ripeness for exploitation, from Steve Johnson’s “Hypertext” column-blog in the Chicago Tribune:
4. The use of the term “evolution” in the blog’s title does not constitute endorsement by the TSA or this administration of the concept of evolution, generally. TSA believes it may well be possible that airport security is the result of Intelligent Design.
There are also the jokes about standing in line, 3-ounce bottles and, of course, shoes. I toyed with “shoes-off” as a qualifier in the title of this post.
As the son of a bureaucrat and someone who has depended my whole career on the kindness of bureaucrats, I have come to understand that you can’t make up better jokes than the ones that just come whirring and clicking out of the government itself.
On a recent federal form I was printing out from a government website, I noticed that the form I wanted was on only one page, but I had already committed my printer to inking up an unnecessary Page 2 of the download.
Two thirds of Page 2 was taken up with a block of text entitled, “PRIVACY ACT AND PAPERWORK REDUCTION ACT STATEMENTS.”
The TSA’s new blog follows that fine tradition, and I don’t fault those who created the blog. It’s just that the government can’t help being the government.
It started, back on Jan. 30, with a sensible enough premise:
Two million travelers come in contact with the Transportation Security Administration every day. It is an intense experience all around — extremely personal in some senses but also impersonal at the same time.
There is no time to talk, to listen, to engage with each other. There isn’t much opportunity for our Security Officers to explain the ‘why,’ of what we ask you to do at the checkpoint, just the ‘what’ needs to be done to clear security. The result is that the feedback and venting ends up circulating among passengers with no real opportunity for us to learn from you or vice versa. We get feedback verbally and non-verbally at the checkpoint and see a lot in the blogs, again without a real dialogue.
I’m with you, brothers and sisters. I’ve attempted to engage in dialogue at a security checkpoint, and it never ends well.
The initial post promises access to senior folks in the agency to get right to the heart of burning issues, but also guest bloggers to talk about what’s good about the agency. My initial reaction to that last bit involved a bit of reverse peristalsis, but that’s ok, it’s their blog, they should be able to toot their own horn from time to time.
As for the bloggers,
their job is to engage with you straight-up and take it from there. Our hosts will have access to senior leadership but will have very few editorial constraints. Our postings from the public will be reviewed to remove the destructive but not touch the critical or cranky.
Again, that’s fine by me. I spike or edit personal attacks in comments on this blog. Talk about the issues, not the people.
And the bloggers have personalities, too. There’s Ethel, the Wisconsin hog caller who graduated from MIT and Jay, the air marshal turned security director.
But the very first post, the blog’s comment policy, has caveats and disclaimers that can only be dreamed up under the glare of an assistant deputy general counsel’s fluorescent tubes:
Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other nongovernmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this blog. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of TSA, DHS, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying TSA endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.
It also warns that it won’t tolerate commercial appeals (same here) or using the blog as an end-run around normal procedures:
This blog may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.
The blog also does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of statements, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. I mean, my own blog may be part of the corporate mainstream Media Industrial Complex, but I don’t feel compelled to warrant or unwarrant anything. Read it and weep. Don’t like it? Comment. If it’s wrong, let me know.
My favorite proviso of the new blog concerns my own line of work:
Members of the media are asked to send questions to the Office of Public Affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted.
Sadly, I missed the opportunity to be the first reporter to get past that restriction.