David Olive

Feb 3, 2010

Well, it was just weird. The House Science subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a
hearing today on next generation passenger screening technologies, or
at least, I thought that was its purpose from the title of the hearing.

From the questions that were asked, it turned out that three of the
four committee members who showed up for the hearing apparently had the
same sense as I did. But for Subcommittee Chairman Rep. David Wu
(D-OR), the purpose seemed to be something else.

First, he was quite irritated that a couple of National Research
Council reports from 1996 and 2007 had been “ignored.” Second, he was
upset – to the point of repeatedly interrupting witness’ answers – that
no one could tell him whether public opinion polling had been done on
public acceptability of screening technology.

Yes, that’s right. Chairman Wu was upset that DHS had not taken an
opinion poll on security technology – because politicians know this can
be done quite easily to learn whether public acceptance of screening is
“real” or “imagined.”


None of the witnesses would answer the Chairman’s threshold
question, because they wanted to say something substantively. But I’ll
speculate an answer: How about the high probability that Congress would
publicly skewer DHS for doing so?

Can you imagine the demagogues who would march to the House floor to
decry their outrage at scientific research being guided by political
polling? Oh MY!

I suspect C-SPAN prays for such events because it would drive
audience viewership to new heights. Close-up pictures of
Representatives sputtering their exasperation would make all the talk
shows and late night comedy shows, to the extent those are different
these days. What a circus it would be!

What is bizarre is that Chairman Wu was quite serious in asking his
questions about polling about public acceptance of screening
technology. Of course, he didn’t say the first word about whether he
would support a budget line item that would allow DHS to pay for such a
poll (they aren’t free!). Like most members of Congress, paying for
ideas is not something that worries them.

As the rest of the subcommittee members tried to get the hearing
back on track by asking semi-relevant questions, Chairman Wu made the
hearing one that witnesses and spectators won’t soon forget!

Unfortunately, it won’t be for the right reasons. Today’s hearing
did not do much, if anything, to advance the cause of safety, security
and satisfaction of those subjected to screening technologies.

What a shame. What a real shame.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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