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Open Laptop Bags - Open Government

Let's start with a simple fact: DHS is a great big agency – the third largest, in fact. We have upwards of 20 components, directorates, and offices; a staff of over 225,000; our budget for fiscal year 2009 was over $40 billion. Now, if you are an average American, chances are that among all of those components and directorates, you interact with one of them more than the rest combined: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Whether you are boarding a flight to Des Moines, on an AMTRAK train that shares a track with freight transports, or on the road behind a truck carrying hazardous materials - TSA has a hand in making sure that you are safe along the way. (Planes, trains, and automobiles, indeed.) I suppose it goes without saying that with this level of public interaction comes with a lot of opinions. The rules for what you can and can't bring onto an airplane are complicated, and sometimes frustrating. Why in the world would a government agency tell you that you have to take your flip-flops off before going through a metal detector? Well, flip-flops can be modified to conceal a small compartment – just about any shoe can, even the slimmest stiletto. Who knew? Behind each of these rules is a lot of research, intelligence, and consideration - and that's not easy to explain at an airport checkpoint.

So, almost two years ago, TSA began an experiment, launching a blog to directly engage with the public. Today the idea might seem pedestrian, but in January of 2008 it was among the first ten government blogs in existence, and "risky" would have been an understatement in describing what TSA was proposing: an online public forum where one of the government's newest and most controversial agencies would discuss its most controversial rules and decisions and let travelers do the same. Good times.

Almost two years later, the results speak for themselves. Over one million hits to date; dozens if not hundreds of public comments and discussions on each post; and a reputation as a space where government responds quickly to public concern, and proactively addresses issues that may generate questions and confusion. Now, it goes without saying that the DHS blog would laud the efforts of one of its component blogs, right? Except today, you don't have to take our word for it.

Yesterday, Adobe and MeriTalk honored the TSA Blog with a Merit Award during a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan building here in Washington, D.C. Merit Awards "recognize excellence in innovative implementations that aim to deliver a more efficient and transparent government." The TSA Blog earned the award for "demystifying airport security processes and debunking myths by providing simple, non-bureaucratic explanations of why TSA does what it does to keep the traveling public safe."

So, big ups to our friend to Curtis "Blogger Bob" Burns and the entire team who work every day on the TSA Blog to combat misconceptions, respond to public questions and criticisms, and explain in human terms the reasons behind our security measures. From the President on down, this administration has worked since day one to make government a more transparent, open, engaging institution, a place from which the public can expect more information and answers from their elected officials and government employees. Congratulations to TSA for staying ahead of the curve on this one.

"Blogger Bob" Burns just after receiving the Merit Award.

Head over to the TSA Blog to check out some of their latest responses.

Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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