Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bannon and the NSC - as a journalist, make sure you read the law

Amid all the hand wringing about Steve Bannon and the National Security Council, there has emerged a shorthand (that Bannon is "part of the National Security Council") and a meme (that Bannon somehow will have to undergo Senate confirmation).

Both are ill-advised and remind us again why it is important to read the law

As I understand it, he twas not appointed to the NSC but invited to attend meetings of the principals committee, an interagency working group. The distinction is important.

If you look at the U.S. Code, his position does not actually qualify for appointment to the council, since his is not a secretary or undersecretary (and I don't know of any appointment provision subject to Senate confirmation beyond this). To fit him into those specified categories would be a stretch:

"The Secretaries and Under Secretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure."

The other members of the NSC specified by law are the president, vice president and secretaries of state, defense and energy. Other people may be invited to attend, but they are not members of NSC just by attendance. Trump's executive order is fairly careful in parsing this out.

The principals committee, on the other hand, as an interagency group, contains a wider array, such as the attorney general, treasury secretary and homeland security adviser. No Senate confirmation to serve on it is required. It is at the president's discretion.

There are also several other committees (see the executive order) that can have fluid membership and do not require confirmation.

The joint chiefs were never, by statute, part of the NSC (though the president may invite them to sit in). And while Bannon will have great influence over national security policy as part of the principals committee -- and that is properly the subject of much agitated debate -- we need to be precise in what we are talking about.

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Sunday, January 08, 2017

AT&T's massive outage shows how not to do customer service in social media age

AT&T's U-verse service (disclosure, I'm a customer) has had massive outages across the country -- apparently -- for a day or more. The company's response shows how not to do customer service in today's social media world (or one that, just in general, relies on that internet pipe).

I say "apparently" because AT&T has been less than forthcoming in what it's telling people.  You won't find anything on the company's much-touted @ATTCares account on Twitter.

Its @Uverse account is nothing but marketing

What few statements have come from AT&T PR folks have been opaque

The tech support site has a canned statement

And canned chat

The best info is coming from third-party sites like downdetector.com

This probably should be taught as a textbook case study in business and communications schools about how not to handle things in 2016. (I'm also fascinated that it seems few news organizations seem to have picked up on how widespread these problems seem to be.)

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