The best of the federal blogosphere

TSA Chief Opens a Can of Worms
Transportation Security Administration
July 16, 2010

John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, is just asking for it. Really.

Last month, Pistole began a new Web site, "Talk to TSA," on which people can post feedback about TSA operations at airports around the country. The feedback, provided through an electronic form, will go to a specific airport’s customer support manager.

But that’s not all. In a post on TSA’s blog, Pistole promises to review the feedback personally on a regular basis and respond to commonly asked questions and themes through the TSA blog.

“So send us your ideas, suggestions and feedback,” Pistole writes. “I’m listening.”

In less than two weeks, Pistole’s post received 169 comments, many of which raised concerns about airport security screening policies, such as full-body scanning.

“Why does TSA refuse to publish sample images from its strip-search technology that are the same size and resolution as those seen by the operator of these machines?” writes one of many commenters signed as Anonymous.

“Why is the liquid state of matter considered dangerous by the TSA unless contained by ziplock baggies?” Bubba writes. “What does the TSA define as a liquid? Why is canned pie filling a liquid but not filling on a pie?”

Many readers posted questions, some of which were answered by TSA employees, writing under the first name or initials, but many of which were not.

“Does the TSA, or the elusive Mr. Pistole, ever intend to reply to the questions on here? I think sadly we already know the answer to that by now,” writes — you guessed it — Anonymous.

Fun With Taxes
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
June 30, 2010

One of the tough blogging assignments in government has to be for a revenue or tax agency. It’s also probably one of the more important areas to have a blog, as it gives these agencies an opportunity to connect more directly with the public to try to explain what can't be the most popular or easily understood government operations.

That said, it will be interesting to see if officials behind the Massachusetts “Revenue, Taxes and Local Services” blog find a teachable moment in Sen. John Kerry’s decision to voluntarily pay $500,000 to Massachusetts sales tax collectors for a yacht he bought in Rhode Island but that will presumably ply Bay State waters near Kerry’s Nantucket property. If that were the case, Kerry might indeed be liable for Massachusetts taxes. The senator’s pledge to pay nips extended media coverage and a possible state Department of Revenue investigation into the matter.

Addressing a type of purchase that perhaps just a few more residents can relate to, a June 30 post on DOR's blog attempts to explain why someone buying a new Apple iPhone had to pay sales tax as if the phone cost $699, not the $300 the person actually paid.

“Time for a little deconstruction,” writes Robert Bliss, DOR’s director of communication, who gamely explains how this is an example of a bundled transaction in which the real taxable cost of the phone is in effect subsidized by the purchase of the service contract that is required with the phone — a foul wind indeed.

The votes are in…
U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General
July 26, 2010

The Human Resources and Security team at the U.S. Postal Service's Office of Inspector General is trying to gauge public interest in the prospects of casting votes by mail.

Some states and the military allow absentee voting by mail, but some federal and state officials support the idea of making it an option for everyone. That includes Rep. Susan Davis (D.-Calif.), who last year proposed the Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act.

The question is whether people are confident that their votes would be counted and that the system would not be subject to fraud. Based on an informal poll, the blog’s readers are generally upbeat about the idea.

The team asked which voting method readers favor, considering convenience and security. Here are the results, as of July 28.

Voting by mail: 75 percent.
Voting at post offices: 31 percent.
Voting using the Internet: 25 percent.
Voting at special early polling locations: 26 percent.
Voting at traditional polling locations: 37 percent.

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