Blog brief: The best of government bloggers

This week: Dispatch from Haiti, TSA and the nudity scam, and a public poll on postage stamps.

Dispatch From Haiti
Air Force Live
Jan. 24, 2010

Chief Master Sgt. Tyler Foster, who works in public affairs at the Air Force Special Operations Command, provides a firsthand account of U.S. efforts to aid logistics operations in Haiti after the massive earthquake — in this case, managing air traffic control at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.

“Normally, this airport handles about 35 aircraft per day. Last Saturday, we managed about 240,” Foster writes. “For you math whizzes out there, that’s one aircraft every 6 minutes.”

The Air Force team landed seven hours after Haiti's government requested assistance, but the airport “was in utter chaos,” Foster reports. “There were 42 aircraft jammed into a parking ramp designed to accommodate nine. They were parked under each other’s wings, nose to nose, on the taxiway, even on the runway.… It was pure mayhem.”

It took a full day for controllers to clear the field enough to allow planes to begin moving.

TSA and the Nudity Scam
The TSA Blog
Jan. 27, 2010

Officials at the Transportation Security Administration took to their blog last month to discredit an Internet hoax that is gaining popularity.

The case involves a picture that purports to show a revealing (i.e., nude) image that was generated by body-scanning technology developed for use in airport security. The image obviously is intended to spark protest against the use of the technology, which has become a hot topic since a would-be terrorist recently managed to board an airplane with explosives taped to his body.

But experts at TSA’s Office of Information Technology say they have proven that the picture is based on images taken from a stock photo Web site and digitally manipulated. “The doctored images are nothing more than full frontal photos (hence the black boxes) with the colors inverted,” they write.

A Public Poll on Postage Stamps
USPS Office of Inspector General
Jan. 25, 2010

The U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general is looking for public input on how to reduce the cost of producing postage stamps.

The problem is inventory control. In fiscal 2008, for example, USPS ended up destroying $2.8 billion worth of outdated stamps, some of which were more than 10 years old. Over time, those stamps were “printed, shipped, counted multiple times in various inventories, and finally shipped back for destruction under secure conditions,” according to the blog. “How much does this cost, and does the Postal Service benefit from the expense?”

Alternatives exist: Businesses can rent postage meters and use permits for bulk mail. And individual customers can go online to customize and print their own postage. Which is why the IG is asking people to answer questions such as: Should the Postal Service limit stamps to two denominations? Convert all stamps to “Forever Stamps”? Or do away with preprinted stamps altogether?

The IG is also interested in hearing about potential pitfalls, including the fact that not everyone has access to online postage.

Banks That Never Need a Bailout
Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Conversations Engage!
Jan. 21, 2010

The tagline of this state-sponsored blog is “Sharing ideas and working together to encourage citizen participation in government and public policy,” though it probably should be expanded to include the phrase “and connect citizens with worthwhile community-based organizations.”

A recent post raises awareness about an interesting Web-based community-building service called a time bank. The concept is simple: For every hour you spend doing something for someone, you earn a time dollar that you can cash in later to get someone else’s help.

“Instead of the one-way dynamic in traditional volunteering, time banks are built on the idea that everyone in the community has something to give, and everyone has needs,” writes Elizabeth Clay, the state’s director of grass-roots governance.

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