Who’s blogging? You might be surprised

In case there was any doubt, here’s further evidence that blogs have truly arrived as a widespread mode of communication: even the government is getting on board. A number of federal agencies now use blogs to share news, both within the agency and with the general public. The most notable blogs: the Environmental Protection Agency and, surprisingly, the Transportation Security Administration.

Marcus Peacock, the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, blogs about EPA internal affairs. His blog, Flow of the River, is aimed primarily at EPA staff, but it is publicly accessible and surprisingly entertaining (even laugh-out-loud humorous at times). It reads like the thoughts of a real person — a person who is unabashedly positive about his agency, but clearly not a PR machine. There are relatively few comments on the posts, but Peacock responds personally to many of them. His blog offers a glimpse of what’s actually going on inside EPA, and for EPA staff, it lets them know what is on their deputy administrator’s mind.

Even more impressive to me is the fact that TSA (the Transportation Security Administration, aka the people who require you to take off your shoes at airports) has its own public blog. Evolution of Security discusses recent security issues and how TSA works to make airports safer. Though many of the posts read like press releases, they are liberal in their acceptance of comments. Their main page has a counter of recently deleted comments (currently 161 out of several hundred) and links to a list of reasons why a comment might be deleted, such as profanity, off-topic content, and threats. A quick browse through past comments proves that most anything goes: reactions range from “thank you for keeping us safe!” to annoyed passengers to harsh and pointed criticism, with some Orwellian analogies thrown in for good measure — and if you need to tell TSA that you think they’re Big Brother, the blog is definitely a better forum for you than the security line at the airport.

The two-way communication goes further than just angry venting in comments, however. I was pleased to see that popular topics in the comments are often addressed by TSA in subsequent posts; for an agency that inspires so many strong emotions in travelers, this back-and-forth in the blog sends a nice message: yes, they hear you.

In both of these cases, a blog represents a big step forward in communication both within and outside these agencies. If they choose, they can gather a wealth of honest feedback from the comments alone, while letting their audience feel that their voices are heard. So as much as I can’t believe I’m blogging in praise of TSA, well, maybe that’s a sign that their blog is working.

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