April 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm #97007
April 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm #97075
Lots excluded from PRA including
-Interactive meeting tools.
-Basic registration and account profiles excluded. Just can’t ask age, sex, race, employment, citizenship
If you have ever gone through PRA clearance (I have), you know how painful of an experience it can be (and costly as often it is contractors writing up allt he docs). So this is a step in the right direction
April 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm #97073
I’m afraid I disagree with you – this is fairly far from awesome. I’d actually label it fairly disappointing. Not only are both documents written to be as vague as possible (the PRA primer, for instance, spends most of its text simply repeating statute), this doesn’t really get us where we need to be. Basic web usability questionnaires (or facebook surveys), or really, any structured interaction are still subject to the PRA because they ask the same set of questions to more than 10 users, many uses of wikis are not covered (although this is ambiguous enough guidance that most could probably argue their way out of it), but at least open-ended blog-based questions, user registrations and contest/idea generation approaches are free of PRA concerns.
More disappointing from my standpoint, it keeps in place the notion that citizen interaction with the government is essentially a “burden” and still codifies the position that significant interaction with the public should be minimized (this is clearly contrary to open government). Over time, this will continue to reduce innovation in participating with the citizens, as folks will still be caught up with the question of, “But if we do that, will we have to go through a laborious 6 month approval process?” It also still assumes that OMB is actually able to keep up with the massive shift in the use of information online. Their existing process is still in place. If there was ever a process in govt in need of re-engineering it’s the PRA process.
I do agree its a step in the right direction, but from my standpoint, this was “not the change I was looking for”.
April 7, 2010 at 4:59 pm #97071
Horrible. Truly horrible. You still can’t have a simple web poll on your website. Any web poll would trigger an OMB request. Six month (or more) process, published in the Federal Register. Imagine asking, “Do you like our homepage redesign? Y/N” and having to get OMB approval for this?
Total White House fail. This wasn’t the change I was expecting…
April 7, 2010 at 5:28 pm #97069
Interesting. Others take?
I like the feedback. So basically you see is they are taking an old framework and making it slightly better. Vs starting from scratch with fundamental shift evolving in terms of engagement.
I wonder if that is due to compromises in the evolution of the document.
What’s the original reason for need for public notice before reaching out to citizen?
April 7, 2010 at 6:03 pm #97067
Nancy Scola’s take on it at techPresident: Use Social Media Freely, White House Tells Agencies
April 7, 2010 at 6:06 pm #97065
That’s kind of the idea I got from reading the document. Then again, I’m not familiar with all the intricacies of “memo speak”. Happy to hear more about any limitations or obstacles that may still remain despite this memo.
April 7, 2010 at 6:10 pm #97063
Just to be clear, there is a very wide chasm between making something slightly better and starting from scratch. The big objection from the Web Content Managers, for instance, was that we couldn’t do a simple “What did you come here to find?” and “Did you find it?” question on the website without going through an insanely ridiculous process for a completely basic question. Just on this point, they could have come up with a number of ways to address this, such as saying “all website usability forms, as long as they fit within the following parameters, are automatically waived from the PRA process.”
Just following that one point further, we’re now are in a situation were Agencies will have a huge incentive to essentially ask unstructured questions in the hopes of getting the structured answers they need. The idea that because something is posed as a survey instead of an open ended question that one becomes a “Information collection” while the other one doesn’t is just silly. OMB even tacitly acknowledges this point in the guidance by in essence saying it would be a bad idea for Agencies to make decisions based on unstructured data – all the while knowing full well that is exactly what is going to happen.
April 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm #97061
Great discussion here. Information Week just posted a review of the three new guidance docs, which was pretty positive overall. I think the (disappointing) truth is that the coverage of this will be a lot more positive than those that work in these issues would think, and that the big questions not addressed, like polling on govt sites, will remain unanswered.
April 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm #97059
Agreed – a cursory reading of the document from those unfamiliar with memo-speak – and this document exhibits horrid memo-speak – will look very positively at it, and assume the problem is solved. While I agree its a step in the right direction, clearly OMB has put off a larger effort to really think through the PRA and its implications in a digital world until some unspecified later date.
Keep in mind, the jist of the language in the PRA came from a Records Management person in the Carter Administration (although the initial legislation got enacted at the beginning of the Reagan Administration in 1981). One of the very few aspects of Newt Gingritch’s Contract with America that actually got enacted was re-instituting the PRA. Bottom line, we are working with a 30 year-old information management solution, and a process in OMB that hasn’t really been looked at since it was enacted in the early 90s. Maybe its just me, give given the changes in the use of technology and its impact on information over the past 15+ years, perhaps its about time we revisited this issue. Unfortunately, the PRA guidance put out today doesn’t do that.
April 7, 2010 at 7:10 pm #97057
From a technical perspective, social media tools, and web 2.0 technologies generally rely upon the use of persistent cookies. This memo says nothing about the reversal of the policy that (essentially) forbid the use of persistent cookies.
This memo, it seems, was meant to clarify, not change policy.
April 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm #97055
I think this is workable for a majority of social networking uses. I believe that OMB is correct in still insisting on have surveys cleared through PRA especially if it will shape policy. There may be an issue with wikis on considering “identical questions” as a survey controlled by PRA because it may be very easy to construe a set of wiki page tiles as identical questions.
April 8, 2010 at 1:07 am #97053
Documents like these drive me nuts! While no doubt well intentioned it is totally incomprehensible and will do little to speed the adoption of social media because the people wishing to use the tools will have to get the advise of agency legal counsel to interpret the memo. Now I understand that documents such as these are effectively legal documents so all the jargon might be necessary, but there is no reason/excuse not to have plain English examples that go along with each item. So rather than simply whine let’s look at a specific example…take the paragraph:
* Items collected to allow users to customize or influence the appearance of an agency website.
When agencies permit website users to customize or influence the appearance of an agency website, the items collected to permit this customization are generally not subject to the PRA. This catagory includes faceted navigation, which permits website users to filter website content. For example, a websiste might offer a user the option of selecting from a list of topics as a means of customizing the presentation of information; responses to such offers are not “information” under the PRA. Similarly, an agency may link and/or store faceted navigation preferences (e.g. in a user profile) without triggering the PRA. However, information that is collected beyond what is necessary to navigate or customize a website is subject to the PRA. (In these and all other areas, agencies shall comply with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies that pertain to privacy.)
wheeewwwww (I had to type this in by hand)…what’s the deal with embedding this doc via the slideshare nonsense..how about a good ole’ fashioned link to a PDF??
As an example to clarify the above legalese the memo should give clear examples such as:
If you want to allow users to customize the way they navigate your website, and you want to store their preferences, that’s fine, just don’t collect information not needed for the navigation preferences. In addition if you want to allow users to customize the look of your website via skins or other types of preferences that’s fine also.
Each of the items listed should be followed by plain English descriptions of the type of social media item being described. Not that difficult.
April 8, 2010 at 5:20 am #97051
Want to tell OMB to forget it, that we don’t want their help? Bitterly complain that efforts like this do nothing and pretend they don’t face a zillion competing interests, just as we do.
This memo makes many positive statements about using social media. For me personally, its biggest effect will be to stop people challenging us based on the PRA about a bunch of stuff we do regularly.
Will it free us to do simple surveys? No. But blame the law, not OMB.
Yes, it’s written in memo-speak. Yes, it drives me nuts that they can’t seem to get how far a very few simple examples would take us toward understanding.
But celebrate successes where they come even while expressing hope for more.
April 8, 2010 at 5:28 am #97049
Steve, your question at the end gets it a little backward, speaking as a former regulator.
The idea isn’t to stop us from reaching out for input. It’s to stop gov’t from putting overly burdensome reporting requirements on regulated businesses.
Imagine you’re a small business owner and 10 federal agencies require you to fill out 200-page forms every year in order to operate. You wouldn’t be happy, right? So OMB is charged with coordinating reporting requirements.
The problem is that this has been so minutely implemented that it covers silly stuff like posting a survey in a blog asking about readers’ favorite ways to spend time outdoors.
As to voluntary submissions being “obviously” irrelevant, well, what if you gave special treatment to people who voluntarily did it?
A lot of what is now overdone and overinterpreted started out as good gov’t efforts. And more of the problem comes from the review process. If it took a matter of minutes to get approved to ask that survey about outdoor recreation, and we could build it right into the survey posting process (press this button and wait 5 minutes), our collective complaints would be much quieter.
April 8, 2010 at 5:30 am #97047
The white paper from several of us on the Federal Web Managers Council about barriers and solutions still has quite a bit of relevant thinking, including on today’s guidance.
April 8, 2010 at 9:40 am #97045
Noel — Isn’t there really SO much they can change given that the Paperwork Reduction Act still is the law.
To be honest, I just didn’t have time yesterday to read through the guidance — but I’m also going to have to go back and re-read the law itself
But it seems OMB can’t just say, ‘Oh that PRA thing — just ignore it.’ Congress has to eventually do that.
I understand that there is a lot o’ frustration around PRA, but is this really a OMB issues, or should PRA just be thrown out by Congress in lieu of new and updated principles?
Again, I’ll go back and read the law today, but I remember the discussion around PRA when it was passed — and that was the discussion… that the paperwork that people had to fill out WAS a burden and we have to stop it. (Remember this law was enacted in 1980. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paperwork_Reduction_Act )
Even the idea of a PAPERWORK Reduction Act seems outdated to me… and, in some ways, isn’t OMB just trying to put lipstick on a pig? (or on the PRA?)
April 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm #97043
Not really complaining (ok maybe a little but you make good points. Simply managing to get this “guidance” out of the bowels of OMB is an accomplishment and should be applauded. Now some English please.
April 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm #97041
OK, I am seeing some shifts which will make things a tad easier, with that said, I attended a phone conference last week where a PhD in Stats was discussing how and why to do the OMB PRA forms. The one that got me was the expectation that if your survey was well crafted you would expect to obtain above 40% but, if possible, 80% of your population to respond or you would suffer from non-response bias. I’ve been working with surveys for a lot of years and I’ve never heard of a large population survey with no incentivation expecting more than 10 to 15%… The intimation of the speaker was that OMB wouldn’t give the go ahead for anything less than 40%… so, my desire for the “what type of audience are you and what are you looking for on my website” dream is kaput from the get-go… even if I do the “generic” request for 3-years. . Baby-steps. This is not a factor of paperwork reduction – this is a voluntary, 1-3 minutes of public time. No paper involved whatsoever! I’m pleased there are improvements, I guess time is what is needed here.
April 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm #97039
While I like the improved guidance given about social media, I am concerned that the Act still, in effect, motivates agencies NOT to do statistically sound assessments and surveys.
Relying on unstructured data and passively collected data on social media events and transactions can be very useful — I’ve been involved in projects to use such data in connection with government programs — but there’s a fundamental problem with being able to relate cloud- and conversation-based data to the legally-defined populations addressed by government programs. You still need to control at some point data collection methods in terms of population definition and sampling, and that’s traditionally what the PRA has, in effect, motivated agencies against doing because of the review hassle involved.
Passively extracted and incomplete data on demographics, extracted after the fact from web based data scans and automatically classified “conversations,” can’t replace asking simple identifying questions like “how old are you” and “where do you live.” That’s still a problem, but as most commentators have said, it’s a legislative hurdle.
April 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm #97037
I certainly hope that (cookie) memo does more to enable web 2.0 technologies than the one released yesterday. Anything short of a blanket authorization to use persistent cookies would be a disappointment.
April 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm #97035
Sorry Jeff, but if this is the level of expectation for OMB and the federal government in general, I’m concerned. You’re setting the bar pretty low, I think.
We should expect more from our public servants. How much time do these lawyers need to write a seven page memo?
[sarcasm] Maybe we ought to off-shore our government lawyers to China or India? [/sarcasm]
April 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm #97033
As one who recalls the struggle to get the PRA enacted and how proud we were to have it, the pervasive point-missing of these comments is astonishing! Can we have lost so much perspective in a mere 30 years? If anyone thinks that providing information to a federal agency is not a burden, then that person has obviously solved the problem of how to do stuff without spending anu time or effort doing it. As for things like web polls–I assume that these would be opt-in voluntary?–anything we can do to expressly forbid the use of these awful, biased sources of spurious “information” is to be applauded.
April 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm #97031
Noel – would you elaborate on “One of the very few aspects of Newt Gingritch’s [sic] Contract with America that actually got enacted was re-instituting the PRA”?
April 9, 2010 at 11:59 am #97029
You don’t think there is value in informal polling? How do you obtain information to structure a statistical survey without it? How do you run a well-structured usability study without a preliminary idea of who your audience is? Why should it take 6-months to craft a simple satisfaction survey — standard to the world. Here’s an idea – can OMB post a set of satisfaction questions that are pre-authorized on any website? We’d love that.
Why discourage good survey and poll construction by over-exuberance. Agnecies are routinely NOT even trying to collect good data, because of PRA. I absolutely agree the PRA is a great thing…in its place. The whole point of open web and websites is to get people to the information they want and need and we have a tough time doing that well if we can’t ask who our audience is and what they want. The simple fact is that an opt-in survey is a very useful tool to help narrow focus, especially when no funds will be made available for any formal studies. Agencies simply don’t have the time or funds to do it. They won’t. “opt-in voluntary” means “awful” and “spurious” to you? I would call it democratic. Who doesn’t opt-in to your serious information gathering? Unless you have military folks required to participate, no one has a study without opting in of some kind. I don’t want to place a burden on grantees or businesses, I just want to get some input that isn’t biased by being a Federal Employee who “knows” who their customer is. Believe me, the average content owner of a web page has only a vague sense of who is really visiting the information and how they are making use of it. They typically focus on the one customer type who provides them information (is required to by law). The rest of the audience types (and there are almost always several) are ignored or simply not known. Small agencies can’t or won’t spend funds to do usability studies or approved survey “just” for their websites. I’m still expected to find out who the audiences are and what they want. I’ve spent years crafting website content based on staff knowledge and suppositions. People wonder why websites fail to engage the public or even key stakeholders? No one has asked them what they want! PRA is a great thing, but opt-in/voluntary informal polling is too. They serve different purposes. The decisions made about the “awful, biased” information I want to collect doesn’t involve money or policy, it affects the position of a navigation item and whether most users want an easy access button for a specific kind of information…which is already on the website.
To sum up, PRA is great, informal polls are great also, let’s figure out a way to make both happen without undue burden on the agencies or the public.
April 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm #97027
Hi Chris, just for context, I spent more a couple of months studying the PRA (based on need, and more specifically, looking for loopholes to get around it) and came out with a number of recommendations to OMB that I submitted in a number of ways to them. You can see my comments here if interested:
But in short, no, they cannot ignore the PRA. But they can change the process by which its implemented. This is what I was hoping for. When we get caught up by truly silly propositions – such as the idea that making a common usability survey on a website takes six months and lots of paperwork to implement, there is clearly something fundamentally wrong. Partially, the problem certainly exists in statute, but more specifically it exists in OMB’s process for implementing the language.
If there was one line I’d change in Statute, it would be the reference to voluntary information collections, which is at Title 44, Chapter 35, Section 3506 (c)(1)(B)(iii)(IV), which in talking about the person receiving the collection of information states that, “whether responses to the collection of information are voluntary, required to obtain a benefit, or mandatory…”. If this were removed, most of the easier problems would go away. But this definitely requires an act of Congress.
April 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm #97025
Sure, the PRA was canceled some time in the late 80s. Newt got this re-instituted in 1995, as one of the few things from the Contract with America that got through Clinton’s Vetos . It was pretty much the same language as the initial version, although it added some absurd things like the Dewy Decimal system for the internet, known as the “Government Information Locator Service” (GILS) – good thing that’s worked out so well, ey?
April 12, 2010 at 2:28 pm #97023
Hi Faye, as silly as this sounds, the Paperwork Reduction Act has absolutely nothing to do with reducing the amount of paper. Its about about reducing the burden on the citizen. In 1980, this was a reasonable thing in that many agencies sent out lots of forms of information to citizens, often overlapping information. The idea was that govt was supposed to get their act together to not ask for duplicate stuff.
Unfortunately, the word “voluntary” was included in the statute, which means that voluntary information collections are subject to the PRA. But as you state, the question of how OMB implements the statute clearly has issues. First off, OMB has never been able to get the govt agencies to “get their information interoperability” act together, nor do they have the requisite variety to actually keep track of all these different information collections to determine if there is overlap. My position is that Agencies should be allowed to create “prototype collections” and then allow citizens to crowdsource any overlaps and provide OMB the potential concerns. In other words, we need to apply open government conceps to OMB’s PRA process.
April 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm #97021
Dennis, I couldn’t agree with you more about the creation of silly incentives – Agencies now have a very strong incentive to forgoe sound assessments and surveys in gathering information for policy making. This is certainly my the biggest concern with the latest PRA guidance.
April 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm #97019
From my perspective this is clearly “just a stopgap measure to ensure that OMB has met its requirement for addressing an issue” as you state above. Regarding your second point, are you asking whether citizens should be able to FOIA the actual names of people participating on wikis and blogs?
April 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm #97017
Thanks, but I don’t think it was ‘canceled’ and ‘re-instituted.’ Canceled isn’t an action or term used in reference to federal law. It’s possible that legislation could contain a date at which the law expires (sometimes called a ‘sunset’). For many laws with such dates, the Congressional expectation is that the law would be reauthorized before it expired. Quite often, federal agencies will continue to implement a law that has not been reauthorized before it’s expiration date since the appropriations they receive to implement it essentially act as one year extensions of the law. I don’t remember if the PRA originally had an expiration date, but it was reauthorized in 1986. It never was not in force and I’ve never heard of the Contract with America events you mention. For a history of the PRA, see a Congressional Research Service report : http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/secrecy/RL30590.pdf
April 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm #97015
Hi Rick, you’re right, I used the wrong verbiage. According to the document you linked, the 1986 reauthorization lasted until 1989, at which time I guess the term would be that it was sunsetted. So from 1989 to 1995, it was not in force. Regarding the Contract with America reference, this is an easy thing to find. Here’s an example of many links on this (see the last paragraph): http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Contract+with+America
April 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm #97013
That’s a big stretch to assume all wikis and blogs could be used as a decision making vehicle for the prospective expenditure of funds. Perhaps one of the acquisition/FAR folks could weigh in here to comment on whether the FAR already has rules in place that address this point – meaning, regardless of the medium of decision making used in developing a procurement, certain rules need to be in force. Whatever those are, social media used for the same purpose should adhere to those rules.
April 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm #97011
Noel – It never sunsetted. The law has been in effect from the day it was first passed – there have been no gaps. You’ll have to check the PRA language, but I suspect the law is permanent and the lapses in authorization are only with respect to the authorization for appropriations. Checked the link you provided and I can see that the PRA is listed, but this was just the latest in a series of reauthorizations, so with respect to the PRA, the Contract didn’t really do anything. Congress simply took credit under the Contract for something it was going to have to do anyway.
March 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm #97009
This may be old news to some but it is on my front burner right now. Has anything changed that would allow us to use polling or surveys with a group of grantees inside a closed wiki?
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.