Saturday, November 29, 2008

Orlando airport incident shows that TSA and Orlando police should not air their dirty laundry in the media

When I read Friday's article in the USA Today about how an Orlando airport contractor boarded a plane with 14 guns and 8 pounds of marijuana, I saw the classic finger pointing exercise that is typical of government agencies.   Having worked for the Air Force for 20 years in the public relations arena, I've seen these "turf wars" of who is going to take the blame.

First, the facts of the story.  According to an article written by Thomas Frank in Friday's newspaper, Thomas Anthony Munoz boarded a plane with the weapons and drugs.   Munoz worked as a contractor at the Orlando airport when he boarded a Delta contract flight from central Florida to Puerto Rico.  According to the article, Orlando police knew that Munoz had guns as he boarded the plane.  They notified the TSA of Munoz' status as he boarded the flight from Florida to Puerto Rico.

Munoz's arrest has brought the Transportation Security Agency's Inspector General to call for a screening of all contract employees who work at the airplane.   Franks article stated "that the IG report stated "Munoz evaded airport security by carrying the duffel bag through an employee entrance that leads to airplanes."

  As a former government public relations supervisor, I have seen one effective way on what to do when confronted with a mess like this.  The smartest way is:
1)  To admit errors.  

2) To tell the media that you learned from them and how you're going to fix it for the future
3) To move on to find a way to improve upon the process. The media will check back to make sure you keep your promises.

Such a confession does not make for a page three story in a national newspaper. However, the Orlando Police Department and the TSA got into the "who's at fault" issue about notification of Munoz's ability to smuggle the guns and drugs onto the plane which Franks reported in his article.  By airing their issues in public, it created the media poopfest that sells newspapers instead of really addressing the issue.

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