An Interview with Blogger Bob From TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog

March 10, 2009

Best Of, Government 2.0

When I first started “Social Media Strategery” six months ago, one of my inspirations was the TSA’s “Evolution of Security” blog.  Along with Intellipedia, which showed me that IT security fears could be overcome, the Evolution of Security blog showed me that something even more important – that our government could be open and transparent with the public, even in the face of heavy criticism.  Let’s be honest here – the TSA isn’t on anyone’s list of most beloved government agencies – who enjoys going through security at the airport?   Yet, they have a very open blog that’s advertised on the official TSA website and in airports around the country.  I was beyond intrigued – I was also excited and curious.  How did they do what I had been told would never be done?   Why did they do it?  How are they managing  it?  I immediately began thinking of ways to bring this open, authentic conversation to my other government clients, knowing that maybe this Government 2.0 thing was possible after all.

Because sometimes all it takes is one blog, one wiki, or one presentation to inspire someone else, I wanted to interview one of TSA’s bloggers, Blogger Bob, to find out what made TSA take a risk like this in the first place, how it’s been working out for them, and what we can look forward to in the future.  Maybe someone else will get inspired by what they read here and realize that Government 2.0 is happening right now, and that they can make a real difference.

My questions are underlined and bolded below – Blogger Bob’s responses are found just below each question.

When and why did you decide that the TSA should do an external blog?
“That’s an easy one. Our former administrator, Kip Hawley, requested a blog. From that point, it was about 6 months later that we launched our blog. From what I’ve heard and read, one of the largest hurdles to clear is getting leadership to buy off on Web 2.0, but in our case, the Grand Poobah wanted it. That made things much easier. Kip wanted an outlet where he could make TSA a little more transparent. Lynn (Blog Team Member) was a major part of getting the blog off the ground as well. She and others wanted a way to interact with passengers and talk about airport security, knowing there’s not really much time for conversation at the checkpoint. This was also an excellent opportunity to debunk myths and let passengers know about new ideas and procedures.”

What was the biggest challenge you faced in taking it from a good idea to actually creating the blog?  Was there any type of key event that became the turning point in making it happen?  If so, what was it?
“We had to work with IT Security and Legal to make sure we wouldn’t start any fires. Legal also played a major part in crafting our comment policy.  Finding folks who are committed to moderating is a bit of a challenge, but they’re out there.”

How did you determine whether to host the blog on a .gov or a .com server?  How did you resolve the various reporting/privacy requirements of hosting comments on a .gov server?
“All “official” government systems must be hosted on .gov domains per FISMA (law). This gives the public confidence that they are interacting with the government and not a “phishing” (fake) government Web site. When we stood-up our TSA blog in January 2008, there was no guidance on what the reporting/privacy requirements were for government blogs. Therefore we coordinated a policy and Terms of Use between the Office of Chief Counsel and other TSA offices. After a brief period of internal deliberation, we felt that we put sufficient safeguards in place to launch and maintain a government blog that was consistent with the spirit of established guidance. Thanks to Neil Bonner for that answer.”

Have you encountered any situations where something you’ve said on the blog turned out to be inaccurate after the fact?  How did you deal with that?
“I once said I was eating Froot Loops when I was actually eating “Frosted O’s.” You’re the first person I’ve admitted this to. Seriously though, there have been a couple of times where clarification was needed. The simplest way for us to deal with that was to just provide an update in the original post and then announce it in our comment section that we made the update.”

According to the Delete-o-Meter, you’ve only had to delete about 1,000 comments.  That seems like a very low % when compared to the number of total comments.  Do you/have you receive(d) any pushback from your superiors for negative comments that are posted?
Not at all. When Kip started the TSA blog, honesty is what he was after. He wanted it, warts and all. We sometimes get pushback from our officers in the field though. At times it can seem as if we’ve tied ourselves to the whipping post and created a demoralization machine. But that’s not true at all. When you look at the bigger picture, we’ve got about 3,000 readers a week and a small percentage of those readers are commenting. We fully expected to get hammered when we launched the blog. We didn’t expect a bunch of super fans waving foam fingers reading “TSA is #1″ to follow our blog.”

What would you say is the biggest success story that has resulted from the blog (indirectly or directly)?
“I think the biggest success story is the blog itself. It has succeeded when many thought it would never last. We’ve been blogging for over a year now and we’re still kicking. I think the blog has allowed us to show that we’re human and not a bunch of soulless govbots. The blog has allowed us to become much more transparent and even those who would rather see TSA fail have commended us for allowing a forum for them to vent. It hasn’t come easy though. Transparency is a tricky thing when you’re working for the government. There are just certain things you can’t talk about. And when we tell our readers we can’t talk about something, it’s kind of like telling an angry person to relax. They just get angrier. But that’s the reality when you’re blogging for the Govt. But all in all, we’ve been able to make policy changes (Black Diamond & Electronics in Bags) and better train our work force. (MacBook Air)   There are also the many changes you don’t see. We’ve got officers and leadership from airports around the world paying attention to the blog. It has to have some impact on the way we do business. There is even one case in Seattle where the Federal Security Director has his leadership discuss the blog at daily meetings.”

How did you identify the bloggers for the “Evolution of Security” blog?  Do they go through any sort of training before they can start blogging?
“Lynn went to Google and just started searching for TSA employees that were blogging. Of course, my name came up in the search and Lynn knew me from my work on the TSA Advisory Council. I didn’t receive any training since I was already familiar with blogging and had been with TSA for 6 years. On the other hand, Paul was hired directly out of college. Blogging was no problem for him, but he had to wrap his brain around TSA. We suggested some reading and sent Paul out to the field to observe. We’ve also involved Paul in other Public Affairs tasks such as writing press releases and public affairs guidance. This type of work is an excellent way for Paul to dig in and learn about all things TSA. We’re getting ready to bring a few officers onto the blog and we’ll have to provide some basic training and guidance. Nothing too complicated…just expectations, blog etiquette and vetting procedures.”

How much, if any, outreach do you do on other blogs/social networks?  Are you actively commenting on other TSA-related blogs?
“I do random outreach. Using my Google Reader, I check for all things TSA related daily. If I see something that needs a response, I’ll go in and make a comment. Some people are weirded out that I (The Government) found them and others are pleasantly surprised. I am also spending a lot of time on Twitter lately seeking out TSA questions and providing answers. Some folks have figured out that they can ask me a question @tsablogteam. It will be interesting to see how our use of Twitter evolves.”

What other blogs do you enjoy reading and why?
“When I’m off the clock, I enjoy reading mostly music related blogs. The days of reading store-bought magazines and listening to the radio to seek out new music are over. Now you can listen to mp3’s of the artist while reading a review or interview. I enjoy The Futurist, Stereogum, Aquarium Drunkard, Soul Sides and Gorilla vs. Bear, to name a few.”

Where do you see the “Evolution of Security” blog going in 2009? Any new features/changes coming?
“Yes! We are going to be switching from Blogger to WordPress. We are also going to be posting more vlogs and podcasts. Also, I am currently talking with four of our officers in the field about joining the blog team. It will be exciting to get some more folks on board that have their boots on the ground out in the field.”

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

View all posts by sradick

46 Responses to “An Interview with Blogger Bob From TSA’s Evolution of Security Blog”

  1. Chance Says:

    Blogger Bob is too modest. I was on the TSA blog team for a few months, and frankly was overwhelmed (of course, my short temper didn’t help). It takes some very dedicated and talented individuals like Lynn and Bob to keep the blog going.

  2. Chance Says:

    Blogger Bob is too modest. I was on the TSA blog team for a few months, and frankly was overwhelmed (of course, my short temper didn’t help). It takes some very dedicated and talented individuals like Lynn and Bob to keep the blog going.

  3. Chance Says:

    Blogger Bob is too modest. I was on the TSA blog team for a few months, and frankly was overwhelmed (of course, my short temper didn’t help). It takes some very dedicated and talented individuals like Lynn and Bob to keep the blog going.

  4. David McMahon Says:

    As a member of TSA in the field, I commend the writer of this story and Blogger Bob and the Evolution Team. Without people acknowledging the activities of TSA and our desire to be transparent to those we serve, our daily mission would struggle.

    Having the Blogger team speak on our behalf has made our mission a bit easier and more understanding to the traveling public. Not to mention, the ideas that have been presented through this forum.

    Thanks for the article.

  5. David McMahon Says:

    As a member of TSA in the field, I commend the writer of this story and Blogger Bob and the Evolution Team. Without people acknowledging the activities of TSA and our desire to be transparent to those we serve, our daily mission would struggle.

    Having the Blogger team speak on our behalf has made our mission a bit easier and more understanding to the traveling public. Not to mention, the ideas that have been presented through this forum.

    Thanks for the article.

  6. David McMahon Says:

    As a member of TSA in the field, I commend the writer of this story and Blogger Bob and the Evolution Team. Without people acknowledging the activities of TSA and our desire to be transparent to those we serve, our daily mission would struggle.

    Having the Blogger team speak on our behalf has made our mission a bit easier and more understanding to the traveling public. Not to mention, the ideas that have been presented through this forum.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. Andrea Baker Says:

    In all my talks either I bring it up or someone else, but the TSA Blog is a great example of Government 2.0, transparency, and taking a chance (no pun intended) and making it work.

    There is a big win for the agency when real problems or situations are talked about and an entire agency is able to react and answer based on the handful of evangelists that manage their brand. I continue to be impressed and wish them continued success.

  8. Andrea Baker Says:

    In all my talks either I bring it up or someone else, but the TSA Blog is a great example of Government 2.0, transparency, and taking a chance (no pun intended) and making it work.

    There is a big win for the agency when real problems or situations are talked about and an entire agency is able to react and answer based on the handful of evangelists that manage their brand. I continue to be impressed and wish them continued success.

  9. Andrea Baker Says:

    In all my talks either I bring it up or someone else, but the TSA Blog is a great example of Government 2.0, transparency, and taking a chance (no pun intended) and making it work.

    There is a big win for the agency when real problems or situations are talked about and an entire agency is able to react and answer based on the handful of evangelists that manage their brand. I continue to be impressed and wish them continued success.

  10. sradick Says:

    Thanks for the comment David – I suspect that there are many more TSA members out in the field who feel the same way. I’d also venture a guess that Blogger Bob would thank you for all that you do every day out in the field – without you guys, there’d be no need for us!

  11. sradick Says:

    Thanks for the comment David – I suspect that there are many more TSA members out in the field who feel the same way. I’d also venture a guess that Blogger Bob would thank you for all that you do every day out in the field – without you guys, there’d be no need for us!

  12. sradick Says:

    Thanks for the comment David – I suspect that there are many more TSA members out in the field who feel the same way. I’d also venture a guess that Blogger Bob would thank you for all that you do every day out in the field – without you guys, there’d be no need for us!

  13. Phil Mocek Says:

    The TSA blog has become mostly a one-way PR machine. Basic questions (e.g., What’s your policy on children at the airports where passengers are required to submit to either a physical pat-down or your electronic strip-search machines? How did the staff at BWI determine that the liquid left in a bottle at BWI in November — as described by TSA blogger Paul, and further described by Lynn — was non-dangerous using an x-ray machine?) go unanswered.

    Look at the comments for the posts, and you’ll find that there are plenty of us asking reasonable questions that TSA refuses to answer — not questions about matters of national security, just questions about what this agency who requires us to follow rules that we are not allowed to read requires us to do.

    TSA’s policies endanger our freedom.

  14. Phil Mocek Says:

    The TSA blog has become mostly a one-way PR machine. Basic questions (e.g., What’s your policy on children at the airports where passengers are required to submit to either a physical pat-down or your electronic strip-search machines? How did the staff at BWI determine that the liquid left in a bottle at BWI in November — as described by TSA blogger Paul, and further described by Lynn — was non-dangerous using an x-ray machine?) go unanswered.

    Look at the comments for the posts, and you’ll find that there are plenty of us asking reasonable questions that TSA refuses to answer — not questions about matters of national security, just questions about what this agency who requires us to follow rules that we are not allowed to read requires us to do.

    TSA’s policies endanger our freedom.

  15. Phil Mocek Says:

    The TSA blog has become mostly a one-way PR machine. Basic questions (e.g., What’s your policy on children at the airports where passengers are required to submit to either a physical pat-down or your electronic strip-search machines? How did the staff at BWI determine that the liquid left in a bottle at BWI in November — as described by TSA blogger Paul, and further described by Lynn — was non-dangerous using an x-ray machine?) go unanswered.

    Look at the comments for the posts, and you’ll find that there are plenty of us asking reasonable questions that TSA refuses to answer — not questions about matters of national security, just questions about what this agency who requires us to follow rules that we are not allowed to read requires us to do.

    TSA’s policies endanger our freedom.

  16. Phil Mocek Says:

    TSA restricts people’s freedom of movement based on blacklists. TSA punishes people (via restriction of their freedom of movement or seizure of their property) because those people violated rules that TSA specifically bars them from reading (TSA thinks that if “bad guys” could read the rules, they’d work around them… by not breaking them). TSA would, it seems, prefer for people to do dangerous things so TSA can catch them in the act, rather than to prevent people from doing dangerous things.

    TSA is conducting a massive dragnet operation. Almost all of the instances of them catching “bad guys” that they report involve controlled substances, credit card fraud, and immigrations violations. Catching these people is sometimes a worthy cause, but it does not justify the invasive procedures that have been implemented by TSA. We’ve made special exceptions for TSA because we’re so afraid of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries making their way onto airplanes, but we didn’t make this constitutional compromise (warrantless searches) to have TSA search for *any* indication of wrongdoing, only for certain things. They took that and turned it into a dragnet. That’s unconstitutional.

    In the United States, we’re not allowed to stop everyone in an attempt to find the few bad people.

  17. Phil Mocek Says:

    TSA restricts people’s freedom of movement based on blacklists. TSA punishes people (via restriction of their freedom of movement or seizure of their property) because those people violated rules that TSA specifically bars them from reading (TSA thinks that if “bad guys” could read the rules, they’d work around them… by not breaking them). TSA would, it seems, prefer for people to do dangerous things so TSA can catch them in the act, rather than to prevent people from doing dangerous things.

    TSA is conducting a massive dragnet operation. Almost all of the instances of them catching “bad guys” that they report involve controlled substances, credit card fraud, and immigrations violations. Catching these people is sometimes a worthy cause, but it does not justify the invasive procedures that have been implemented by TSA. We’ve made special exceptions for TSA because we’re so afraid of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries making their way onto airplanes, but we didn’t make this constitutional compromise (warrantless searches) to have TSA search for *any* indication of wrongdoing, only for certain things. They took that and turned it into a dragnet. That’s unconstitutional.

    In the United States, we’re not allowed to stop everyone in an attempt to find the few bad people.

  18. Phil Mocek Says:

    TSA restricts people’s freedom of movement based on blacklists. TSA punishes people (via restriction of their freedom of movement or seizure of their property) because those people violated rules that TSA specifically bars them from reading (TSA thinks that if “bad guys” could read the rules, they’d work around them… by not breaking them). TSA would, it seems, prefer for people to do dangerous things so TSA can catch them in the act, rather than to prevent people from doing dangerous things.

    TSA is conducting a massive dragnet operation. Almost all of the instances of them catching “bad guys” that they report involve controlled substances, credit card fraud, and immigrations violations. Catching these people is sometimes a worthy cause, but it does not justify the invasive procedures that have been implemented by TSA. We’ve made special exceptions for TSA because we’re so afraid of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries making their way onto airplanes, but we didn’t make this constitutional compromise (warrantless searches) to have TSA search for *any* indication of wrongdoing, only for certain things. They took that and turned it into a dragnet. That’s unconstitutional.

    In the United States, we’re not allowed to stop everyone in an attempt to find the few bad people.

  19. RH Says:

    Nice post. I too always use the example of the TSA blog and LAFD using Twitter to talk to those who have no idea that there are gov agencies out there using this stuff.

  20. RH Says:

    Nice post. I too always use the example of the TSA blog and LAFD using Twitter to talk to those who have no idea that there are gov agencies out there using this stuff.

  21. RH Says:

    Nice post. I too always use the example of the TSA blog and LAFD using Twitter to talk to those who have no idea that there are gov agencies out there using this stuff.

  22. Steve Says:

    I am a semi-frequent commenter, and I know what you mean about temper. Its easy to get inflamed, especially as someone who has security as part of his job, not from a front line perspective, but from a “we have to design security into the product” perspective.

    I read Schnieir and, to be honest, its hard not to get mad when the security experts like him are pointing out how ridiculous some of these policies are, and yet the TSA just keeps defending them.

    Just today I saw a comment about how the security experts don’t say what should be done, just what shouldn’t. And thats not true at all… they say fund the first responders, and do real shoe-leather police work.

    I know thats not what the TSA wants to hear, since it doesn’t justify their budget, but…its the solid truth and makes absolute sense when you look at it from a rational viewpoint.

    When looked at like that…it makes me mad. Because yes, the TSA has the authority to do searchs, detain people, etc etc. However… only to increase security. If all they are doing is putting on a show…. THEN its not security, its civil rights violation…. and that makes me mad.

    -Steve

  23. Steve Says:

    I am a semi-frequent commenter, and I know what you mean about temper. Its easy to get inflamed, especially as someone who has security as part of his job, not from a front line perspective, but from a “we have to design security into the product” perspective.

    I read Schnieir and, to be honest, its hard not to get mad when the security experts like him are pointing out how ridiculous some of these policies are, and yet the TSA just keeps defending them.

    Just today I saw a comment about how the security experts don’t say what should be done, just what shouldn’t. And thats not true at all… they say fund the first responders, and do real shoe-leather police work.

    I know thats not what the TSA wants to hear, since it doesn’t justify their budget, but…its the solid truth and makes absolute sense when you look at it from a rational viewpoint.

    When looked at like that…it makes me mad. Because yes, the TSA has the authority to do searchs, detain people, etc etc. However… only to increase security. If all they are doing is putting on a show…. THEN its not security, its civil rights violation…. and that makes me mad.

    -Steve

  24. Steve Says:

    I agree….except….

    the main problem that I see is that this blog only makes transparent the “front lines”. The comments don’t really get to a real “policy level”. So you can argue until you are blue in the face (and I have) about the real cost/benefit of the “security measures” they take…

    but it doesn’t really matter. Its not like the director of the department of homeland security is ever going to respond to you on the TSA blog. You arn’t going to change his mind about what he submits to congress for proposals. You wont effect which projects get a green light and which get killed as inneffective.

    Its a very one-way transparency.

    -Steve

  25. Steve Says:

    I agree….except….

    the main problem that I see is that this blog only makes transparent the “front lines”. The comments don’t really get to a real “policy level”. So you can argue until you are blue in the face (and I have) about the real cost/benefit of the “security measures” they take…

    but it doesn’t really matter. Its not like the director of the department of homeland security is ever going to respond to you on the TSA blog. You arn’t going to change his mind about what he submits to congress for proposals. You wont effect which projects get a green light and which get killed as inneffective.

    Its a very one-way transparency.

    -Steve

  26. Steve Says:

    I agree….except….

    the main problem that I see is that this blog only makes transparent the “front lines”. The comments don’t really get to a real “policy level”. So you can argue until you are blue in the face (and I have) about the real cost/benefit of the “security measures” they take…

    but it doesn’t really matter. Its not like the director of the department of homeland security is ever going to respond to you on the TSA blog. You arn’t going to change his mind about what he submits to congress for proposals. You wont effect which projects get a green light and which get killed as inneffective.

    Its a very one-way transparency.

    -Steve

  27. sradick Says:

    I would argue that that the Director of the TSA DOES take into account what is discussed on the TSA blog. I think it’s incredibly pessimistic to think that all our government leaders are there simply to push their own agendas, and don’t listen at all to the public. I would venture a guess that while Kip Hawley probably isn’t reading the blog on a daily basis, he does occasionally check in to get a pulse of what people are talking about. Plus, I can guarantee that the biggest issues and points do get bubbled up from the blog to the leadership. Does the blog by itself effect projects which get a green light? Of course not, just like a face-to-face meeting by itself wouldn’t either. It’s accomplished through a combination of communication vehicles – blogs, meetings, studies, white papers, presentations, etc.

  28. sradick Says:

    I would argue that that the Director of the TSA DOES take into account what is discussed on the TSA blog. I think it’s incredibly pessimistic to think that all our government leaders are there simply to push their own agendas, and don’t listen at all to the public. I would venture a guess that while Kip Hawley probably isn’t reading the blog on a daily basis, he does occasionally check in to get a pulse of what people are talking about. Plus, I can guarantee that the biggest issues and points do get bubbled up from the blog to the leadership. Does the blog by itself effect projects which get a green light? Of course not, just like a face-to-face meeting by itself wouldn’t either. It’s accomplished through a combination of communication vehicles – blogs, meetings, studies, white papers, presentations, etc.

  29. sradick Says:

    I would argue that that the Director of the TSA DOES take into account what is discussed on the TSA blog. I think it’s incredibly pessimistic to think that all our government leaders are there simply to push their own agendas, and don’t listen at all to the public. I would venture a guess that while Kip Hawley probably isn’t reading the blog on a daily basis, he does occasionally check in to get a pulse of what people are talking about. Plus, I can guarantee that the biggest issues and points do get bubbled up from the blog to the leadership. Does the blog by itself effect projects which get a green light? Of course not, just like a face-to-face meeting by itself wouldn’t either. It’s accomplished through a combination of communication vehicles – blogs, meetings, studies, white papers, presentations, etc.

  30. Jane Says:

    Hello,

    I 100% agree with sradick. I have read through all these statements and I have never commented a word. But I cannot stress enough that we all have to thank you for all that you do everyday out there in the field – as sradick said.

    Thank you again for that

    greetings Jane

  31. Jane Says:

    Hello,

    I 100% agree with sradick. I have read through all these statements and I have never commented a word. But I cannot stress enough that we all have to thank you for all that you do everyday out there in the field – as sradick said.

    Thank you again for that

    greetings Jane

  32. Jane Says:

    Hello,

    I 100% agree with sradick. I have read through all these statements and I have never commented a word. But I cannot stress enough that we all have to thank you for all that you do everyday out there in the field – as sradick said.

    Thank you again for that

    greetings Jane

  33. Geoff Palmer Says:

    Bob,

    Here is an example of a survey at CVG (comments omitted for security).
    If you would like to see the full report please contact me.

    For more info about the TSA Security Checkpoint mobile survey, please visit http://www.surveyonthespot.com/press/

    Geoff Palmer
    CEO
    ON THE SPOT SYSTEMS, Creator of SURVEY ON THE SPOT
    888-330-7118

  34. Geoff Palmer Says:

    Bob,

    Here is an example of a survey at CVG (comments omitted for security).
    If you would like to see the full report please contact me.

    For more info about the TSA Security Checkpoint mobile survey, please visit http://www.surveyonthespot.com/press/

    Geoff Palmer
    CEO
    ON THE SPOT SYSTEMS, Creator of SURVEY ON THE SPOT
    888-330-7118

  35. Geoff Palmer Says:

    Bob,

    Here is an example of a survey at CVG (comments omitted for security).
    If you would like to see the full report please contact me.

    For more info about the TSA Security Checkpoint mobile survey, please visit http://www.surveyonthespot.com/press/

    Geoff Palmer
    CEO
    ON THE SPOT SYSTEMS, Creator of SURVEY ON THE SPOT
    888-330-7118

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