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As We Do What’s Exciting, Let’s Not Forget What’s Important

Improving government’s customer service means constantly looking for new ways to do things, seizing new technologies, and experimenting. All good. But as we do what’s exciting and new, let’s not forget that we also need to do what’s important. Like implementing all the laws, regulations, and requirements already in place, for government websites.

A little more than 6 years ago, a group of government web managers came together under the umbrella of OMB’s Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI) and hammered out policy recommendations for federal public websites. Sheila Campbell and I co-chaired that group, and Bev Godwin was our liaison with OMB. The working group included many people whose names you’d recognize – Gwynne Kostin, Annetta Cheek, Brian Dunbar, Jeffrey Levy, Sam Gallagher, Janet Stevens, and others. In that effort, we documented all the existing laws, regulations, and requirements that applied to government websites and best practices already commonly in use across government. In December 2004, OMB issued a memo that embraced our recommendations and referred agencies to the newly-created Webcontent.gov, for guidance on implementation and best practices; and agencies were required to confirm they’d implemented the new policies. The web manager working group – which became the Federal Web Managers Council – was quite proud that this grassroots effort had really worked!

Fast forward to today. So – what happened? Are all of those requirements spelled out in the OMB policies firmly in place? I did just a tiny bit of checking this week and discovered, well, let’s just say there are some holes. I’m not going to call anyone out because I don’t think there’s malice here. I suspect what’s happened is that the web management workforce has changed extensively in 6 years, and there’s been a loss of knowledge. Even though Web Manager University offers a refresher course on laws, regulations and requirements almost every semester, I suspect many web managers believe they already have everything covered and don’t need a reminder.

You know what? I think every web manager should go through refresher training every year. Heck, I knew that stuff forward and backward, 6 years ago; and I couldn’t remember some of the specifics. Yes – some of it is boring and mundane, in light of the excitement of open government and social medial. But we have to remember: it’s important. These are basic protections and management principles that are the foundation of web-based customer service.

So here’s my challenge, government web managers (and any of you who care about how government communicates with citizens): print out one of the handy-dandy checklists on webcontent.gov and see if your agency is complying with OMB’s policies, which include all the pertinent laws and regulations for government websites. Before you start, read the report of our ICGI working group – the one that spelled out why each of these requirements and best practices is so critical to customer service. Take a half hour and go through the chart that shows you how OMB Circular A-130 (which OMB cites in the policies) applies to web management. Do it for yourself, but – more important – do it for your customers.

As we march ahead doing what’s exciting, let’s not forget to do what’s important.

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Tracy Kerchkof

Thanks for this! Lots of new employees in my agency come on board and end up being web managers with out realizing it…and no one gives them these types of tools that would help them succeed. More often than not, they get frustrated and quit.

Stephen Buckley

Candi, you conclude with this thought:

“As we march ahead doing what’s exciting, let’s not forget to do what’s important.”

But, IMHO, that type of thinking exemplifies the problem that has resulted in the “sophomore slump” in the federal Open Government initiative. We have been distracted (as humans often do) by doing stuff that is “exciting”, instead of concentrating on what is “important”.

Everyday, we all wrestle with time-management, right? Much of the important work is boring, right? We need to admit, to ourselves, that maybe we have been spending a little bit too much time playing around with the “shiny new tools” instead of the hard work of figuring out how to be better listeners to what your customers want, which (as your college Communications professor was trying to tell you) does not largely revolve around technology.

I’m glad that you are trying to coax the distracted people away from the “exciting” things, but we need to emphasize the PRIMACY of what’s “important” to improving customer service & citizen engagement.

We should be searching first for what’s “important”, with what’s “exciting” as the after-thought. Not the other way around, as many people have been doing.

It’s time to stop playing with our shiny toys and buckle down to do our homework (even if it is not “awesome”).