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.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More