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Lawmakers to TSA: Keep Your Day Job

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Chris Nakshima-Brown/AP

The Transportation Security Administration is not known for its sense of humor and some lawmakers would like to keep it that way.

During a hearing Wednesday on rightsizing the agency’s workforce, a House Homeland Security subcommittee chairman questioned the glib tone of some TSA blog posts related to security procedure and recent breaches.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., good-naturedly wondered whether TSA was hurting its already less-than-stellar reputation by dashing off pithy prose on serious subjects. A sampling:

  • “A razor, a small saw blade, and a garrote were detected under a sewn-on patch in a carry-on bag at Norfolk (ORF). Sounds like the beginning of a joke: ‘So, this razor, a saw blade, and a garrote walk into a bar…’”
  • The headline “TSA Says Yes to the Dress” appeared on a post advising brides-to-be on how to successfully bring their wedding dresses through security.

My personal favorite, which sadly, Rogers did not mention at the hearing, included some mysterious contraband found at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, referred to as a “debrainer” by a TSA blogger: “Debrainer: I’m not sure what this is actually called, but I’m sure in the right hands, this implement of death is quite capable of extracting a brain. It’s like brass knuckles on steroids and it was found at Baltimore (BWI). Keep one on hand for the zombie Apocalypse.”

“Y’all see where I’m going with this,” Rogers, said, smiling at the unlucky TSA officials who happened to be testifying.

Cue, awkward silence. Finally TSA’s human capital chief Sean Byrne found his voice and said they’d take it up with public affairs and tell them to um, refine, the agency’s message. When was the last time a government agency got ripped for actually trying to be funny?

In an inspiring moment of bipartisanship, Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, backed up her chairman, asking TSA public affairs “to cease and desist on comedy” related to transportation security. “When you are talking about security, it’s not funny,” she dead-panned.

As a writer whose subject matter is also decidedly un-funny, I can empathize with the TSA public affairs folks.

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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