FACA 2.0: Social MEdia and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Art of the Possible

I’m the Executive Secretary of the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee (NMSAC). FACA is a fabulous idea, with the goal of keeping the public aware of what’s going on in their governemnt, but the rules are antiquated and mired in bureaucratic. The bottom line is that it’s not nimble enough to deal with the rapid pace at which the general public communicates and learns. Let me break down the issues:

The Problem:
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) ensures public influence on policy decisions. Current regulations facilitate this by requiring all meetings be open to the public (accept when the meetings are deemed by the sponsoring Agency that they should be closed to the public), notification of the meeting be posted in the Federal Register at least 15 days prior, and reporting and record keeping requirements on those meetings (meeting minutes, etc…)

With the explosion of social networking, and the advent of the Web 2.0 paradigm of information collaboration, it’s clear that the minimum FACA requirements have become outdated and overly bureaucratic to adequately facilitate public participation.

By leveraging Web 2.0 tools and processes, a broader net can conceivably be cast to incorporate a wider range of public engagement. This would result in the sponsoring agencies being more fully informed of issues and concerns during policy or regulatory development.

The Solution:
The concept of using the Web 2.0 paradigm to facilitate public participation in the spirit of FACA, involves exploiting the social software tools in an environment that fosters collaboration through blogs (NMSAC has a blog at http://uscg-nmsac.blogspot.com), forums, wikis,and social networking sites.

Current advisory committee collaboration would be greatly enhanced by using these tools. Rather than deliberation and discussion of issues within the fixed timeframe of a public meeting, Web 2.0 tools can be used to facilitate a discussion that takes place before during and after on official meeting. Extrapolation lends itself to eliminating a formal meeting all together, however this may be an extreme. In addition, Web 2.0 could allow for deliberations to be conducted with a minimum of logistics and costs.

So, as you see, we have big plans for this Committee and Social Media. And if you’re one of the minority that think this kind of thing is a fad, I encourage you to check out ADM Allen’s new blog , his first post pretty much sums up the Coast Guard’s marching orders.

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Adriel Hampton

Good stuff, Ryan. I’ve been thinking along the same lines for local government council meetings, where most city residents don’t participate because most folks no longer communicate along the lines of sitting at a formal meeting all afternoon or night to give a two-three minute comment. Web 2.0 tools can facilitate more people getting involved in discussions about decisions that impact them. One thing I would really like to see become widespread is the simple ability for citizens to create IDs on government sites and then rank (thought a plain Web poll) and comment on development and design alternatives.

Ryan Owens

Exactly! We work on a lot of broad maritime security policy issues, why not create a wiki that lets folks help out in creating policy?

One of my concerns is not to roll out to fast on this stuff. The average age of Maritime executives precludes alot of web 2.0 applications (lets face it, anyone who uses web 2.0 tools and is over 35 is still in the minority), so I’m keeping it simple for now until I get a groundswell going that I can ride.

Adriel Hampton

Yes, the minds of regular Web 2.0 users are different, in the good and bad. I try to think of applications that will help the general public or broad target audience, not just allow me to have more fun! A tool is no good if it’s not used. On the bright side, conventional wisdom was that the Web would weaken social relationships in the offline world, while the opposite has been true. http://www.informationweek.com/news/mobility/messaging/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=211201949

Ryan Owens

Great article, I tend to agree. My wife and I both have facebook pages and it’s fun to send each other wall messaged through the day.

Celia Mendive

Interesting…As an intern at EPA, I worked on a project about 5 years ago, looking at federal advisory committees and their compliance with filing reports, etc. at the Library of Congress. It’s interesting to see how things are changing over the years and how technology can potentially help increase compliance…great stuff!

Ryan Owens

I know, the current FACA regs were written in 2001. I don’t think anyone had any idea what kind of groundswell Social Media would have. It’s driving my FACA attorney nuts that I’m trying to move in this direction…


Makes sense. I think the spirit of the FACA rules encourages the use of social media and new technologies. For example, we’ve moved city meetings from open to the public where you had to drive there to on local TV. Now it’s time to put it in an easier to consumer formats through blogs, videos, and commenting capabilities.