New TSA blog takes off

Transportation Security Administration officials say they hope their new Evolution of Security blog will become a forum for a lively, open discussion of TSA issues. It is the latest example of federal agencies using new Web technologies to connect with the public.

But with its pat-downs and toiletry checks, TSA’s daily function is considerably more invasive and prominent in people’s lives than other agencies that have blogs, such as the General Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, most recently, the Navy.

TSA’s blog launched Jan. 30 with a post from Administrator Kip Hawley, who billed the new initiative as a way to improve communication between TSA screeners and passengers -- or, as he put it, to “explain the ‘why’ of what we ask you to do at the checkpoint.”

As of early this afternoon, the blog had garnered more than 300 responses, many from TSA employees but some from travelers. The posts ran the gamut from applauding the blog effort to calling TSA and its parent agency, the Homeland Security Department, fundamentally flawed.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said the agency is pleased with the amount of attention the blog is getting but added that it is still a work in progress.

The agency plans to have three posts per week and answer questions as they arise. Melendez said the blog represents a way to reach more people than a standard complaint line.

“Blogging seems to be a very effective way of talking to large groups of people one at a time essentially,” he said.

Melendez said postings will not affect a person's status on the no-fly list, and the blog will not offer services under the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program for people who feel they have been incorrectly linked to a name on a terrorist watch list.

David Weinberger, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said a blog goes beyond what a complaint line would do by promoting interaction and, in turn, cooling tempers.

“Without a blog, the inevitable friction has no place to go except in a complaint, either to fellow travelers or maybe to a phone hot line,” he said. “It’s the difference between yelling into a telephone receiver and actually having a chance to sit down with the organization itself.”

TSA officials hopes the conversation will help answer the questions and concerns passengers have about the agency in a positive way.

Weinberger said that even in the first posts, he sees a pattern of comments starting out as angry then becoming more conversational.

“Conversation humanizes,” he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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