I’m mad as hell


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I’m mad as hell and throwing down the gauntlet. I received a Tweet from a co-worker that our Federal agency is now blocking bit.ly among multiple other social tools. Despite the push for expansion of Government 2.0, Apps for America, things like “see click fix” and other great initiatives, government fails at gov 2.0 (my humble opinion of course).

Have you noticed most of the hype and innovation in the new media/ gov 2.0 arena comes from industry- not the SES or C suite level in government? That’s because we suck at gov 2.0!

Here is a short list of things I can’t access at work. Flickr (to UPLOAD photos), Twitter, Facebook, Hootsuite (which the Whitehouse uses!) bit.ly, LinkedIn, and more are added everyday. I can, however, access ebay and apparently some of my colleagues can access porn!

The best part is that I have yet to find any gov 2.0 CIO type folks chiming in or joining the conversation on Twitter or any other social platform. Oh yea, that’s cause they can’t access it- Doh!

What’s the irony here? The very things the government IT wonks want to block are available on our iPhones, Blackberry, Droids, or other smart phones. We’re just blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and connecting on our terms.

Sorry, no links… composed this from my iPad.

p.s. Govloop was blocked at my agency until we bitched enough about it and the block was removed.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I hold more hope in the innovations from the state and local governments. There are some bright spots in the Federal government but changing the culture of centralized IT is going to take much longer than Gov 2.0 advocates have the patience for.

John Kamensky

I experienced similar stunts by agency execs during the Clinton-Gore reinventing government days. Gore would launch an initiative (e.g., streamlined waivers to agency rules) and agencies would block it. We had to create a parallel communication stream with people on the front line, much like you are doing, to get things done. But that parallel communication stream was condoned by the vice president. Not the optimal way of reinventing government, but we were able to engage several hundred thousand front line workers, . . . and probably could have done more if the social media tools of today were available!

Craig Wiggins

It’s so tiring sometimes, fighting uphill. I will say, however, at the fed gov agency where i work none of those things are blocked. I really wish there was some kind of consistency, but perhaps i should be careful of what i wish for…

Richard Fahey

Last year, Steph Gray did a nice piece on work on this in the UK. He created a short survey on access to various social media sites, and then published the results.

Such a survey might be interesting to setup to check what exactly is blocked and then highlight this. Then maybe you could get a formal response as to why your particular agency blocks one services, whereas maybe another agency down the road allows access.

Dennis McDonald

It’s common to bash IT on this one but there are some other forces at play including “that’s not how we’ve always done things here” and “that’s ok for folks on the ‘outside’ but our policies/rules/practices are too complex/important/sensitive to discuss in public” and “we don’t collaborate with folks in that department because [fill in blank].” Fortunately the problems you mention are not universal but common enough to be annoying and serious enough to prevent service to the public.

Sterling Whitehead

Mark, I think you’ve found the ultimate weapon in your last statement:

“p.s. Govloop was blocked at my agency until we bitched enough about it and the block was removed.”

Often, it’s a battle of wills. If you’re stronger, then you can win.

Benjamin Strong

I just updated some links now that I am on a full fledged computer.

Sterling- the bitching was because we found a different work centric Ning site that wasn’t blocked. Once we had that ammo we were able to get Govloop back up on our network. I work in public relations and we use Flickr to upload our photos and share them with the world. When we try to engage our IT folks, they hide in the shadows and won’t talk back to us. I honestly believe they monitor this space, find what hacks we come up with, and then block them.

It’s an “us against them” mentality that is perverse at best. My job is to share information. Their job is to keep the network “safe”. By blocking broad swaths of the internet the likelihood we will get whacked is so low the IT czars can’t help but succeed (while the rest of us fail). Go Team!

Craig, I wish there was a common standard (I think!).

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Wow, this reminds me of the old days when people first started smuggling PCs into the workplace so they could bypass the IT “Druids” who controlled access to the “Big Iron” (IBM and DEC mainframes). 🙂

@Benjamin – There are several products that secure social networking sites while allowing employees to access the applications (FaceTime for example). These products also produce reports of employee activities on the social networks that can be a major benefit. If managers could see how beneficial are the social networks, they would be more accepting of the applications.

And it’s always good to have real examples. One time when we were struggling with a GIS issue, I posted my question to GovLoop and had several solutions within half-an-hour.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

This just came in my email – News Flash: Most employees don’t complain about security restriction

Here’s the money quote:
“According to the survey numbers, however, just 12 percent of CIOs have found that complaints about IT security restrictions are very common. Twenty nine percent said that such complaints are somewhat common, while the majority–58 percent–said that these complaints are not common.

Now if fewer than two out of 10 CIOs are finding this to be a big problem, I would think the headlines would read something along the lines of: “CIOs Surveyed Say Most Employees Don’t Complain Much about IT Security Policies.”

Little misleading with the stats. Add 12% for very common and 29% for common and you have 41% of the workforce that are complaining about security restrictions on a consistent basis. When almost half the workforce is complaining, managers may want to pay attention.

Michael Lennon

Our GovLoop group (Smarter, Better Open Gov) is working on precisely this problem – Objective: Equipping Public Managers to fulfill their mission by engaging the public in Open, Participatory and Performance-driving ways

WE DON’T START WITH THE TECHNOLOGY, but rather the business problem to be addressed. This is usually the easiest place from which to build alliances to enhance the institutional goals.

Our group is field testing on a tool (method) for building these alliances for which we are seeking additional partners.

If you are an advocate for open government initiatives in your neck of the woods and would like to test this field test tool, please feel invited to join our group (Smarter, Better Open Gov) and/or our weekly Friday 1pm calls (218-844-3366 x82267).


Sterling Whitehead

@Benjamin. Whoever oversees your agency’s IT policy or IT workforce (i.e. probably contractors), there are 2 things I can think of to do. (1) Show this post. (2) Request a change in IT’s mission so “information sharing” is on equal footing with “information security”.

Dennis McDonald

Sterling – good suggestions, but I again note that it is not always safe to assume that IT is at fault. Technology can be used to support collaboration and information sharing but the barriers to collaboration and information do not always reside within the IT department.

Dennis McDonald
Alexandria Virginia

Benjamin Strong

@Bill- our IT/web site czars actually have to show an interest in listening to us- they don’t care. There isn’t even an easy way to contact them… you know, Cluetrain Manifesto “conversation” type stuff. They hide in the shadows, follow rules to the nth degree, probably even wear clean underwear before going out and they eat all their vegetable and they are never ever sick at sea.

@shelly- What’s a CIO and do I have one (laughing as I write this). A CIO that poked his or her head out of the office now and then would be wonderful. Offer suggestions to our CIO? That would be great if they had contact information so we could send email, Tweets, Facebook ’em or something. I think most CIOs are holed up in their own fortresses of solitude!

@Sterling, nope- our IT partners are all in house uniform or civilian Fed gov employees!

@Dennis- yea, I can pretty much say our IT people are to fault on this one. We are a stove piped organization where collaboration isn’t rewarded, its stymied.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln the play rocked!!!!

Donna L. Quesinberry

@Sterling – I disagree with the concept about contractors providing the policy. Often we ignite the applications, but policy tends to steer directly from the Government Whigs in each Agency | Department.

@Benjamin – tendency is that with a “new” application Gov2.0 is “new” to federal organizations the rule of thumb is for SES level folks to make the rules. The tendency seems to be lack of trust that personnel will comply with rules and regulations. Albeit, some of that is backed by performance issues that IT departments (security and monitoring of performance) have to address.

Overall buy-in is an issue – ask around in “your circle” who uses GovLoop or Facebook or LinkedIn then go outside your bubble and ask “others.” It is amazing that even today – many folks do not know what GovLoop is and many others won’t venture towards Facebook or LinkedIn.

The gap causes disparities in understanding need. And, of course, the federal sector suffers from internal politics that adversely affect technology progression.

My two cents.

Donna O’Que.
(Copyright © Donna L. Quesinberry-2010. All Rights Reserved.)
This thread comment was not edited.

Benjamin Strong

@Donna- You hit the nail on the head. The trouble is getting an audience. Let me ask you this- shouldn’t at least the CIO know about the interwebs and Facebook? I agree there is a bit of a disconnect but come on… I bet our CIO or SES folks can set their TIVO to reruns of the Golden Girls!

Bwahahaha… sorry for the cheeky reply!

Donna L. Quesinberry

@Benjamin – I happen to enjoy the occasional Golden Girl rerun with the moms – something we can share a laugh at without political banter. It is true though that the disparity is enormous in my interpretation between tech savvy – tech getting along fine (not using every new device) and tech yesteryear – still learning some software. All three are “great” individuals – tech getting along fine and tech yesteryear may be the key decision-makers when it comes to Gov2.0 in any given organization and therein lies the disconnects.

They think | feel they are current, but I can say that in day-to-day musings – I’m seeing some folks scanning their wine bottle to find a distributor close by that services a special label, hitting CL curbside freebies in real-time, while downloading music and uploading a prospectus on their product-line all while talking on the tech-pack through the car while we are driving.

Then there’s the other side of the universe using Facebook and thinking they are rocking the planet.

It is a little berserk if you think about it. A clear direction that projects implementation of new software while providing engaging Gov2.0 is essential. I work with 200 social network sites or so routinely – the incorporation of Tweetdeck, Posturous, HootSuite, etc. aid that – but when I mention those things to non-SNS practioners they think I’m talking in a foreign language and I cannot for the life of me convey the reason to be involved at that tier of interactivity. Family believe it is self-agrandizing – other SNS marketers tell me to step it up.

It is a hell of a playing field today. And, making sense and extensibility is key.

My four cents.

Donna O’Que.
(Copyright © Donna L. Quesinberry-2010. All Rights Reserved.)
This thread comment was not edited.

Donna L. Quesinberry

PS – to answer your question – yes they should be aware of the latest | greatest. And, the sad thing is, they aren’t many don’t “believe in them.” Technology isn’t a religion – it is technology. It is not infrequent to hear, “Oh, I don’t believe in Twitter.” Twitter isn’t a belief system – it is a tool. Little known fact is – Twitter provides greater bandwidth than any other hot-linking resource out there. Maybe if gaining public or Government interest is key to your sector’s initiatives letting them know that tidbit will help.

Government fears uncontrolled growth of the system – it is a tangible fear – not progressive in application, but without a strong knowledge base on the part of your CIO – a fear that is relevant.

Donna O’Que – exceeding my cent budget for one thread 🙂

Nina Adrianna

Maybe we need more bitching in government instead of the sad complacency that seems to pervade public servants.
Kudos to you.

Henry Brown

Looking simply at the number of replies this blog obviously touched a nerve!

Have been down this road several times and the only solution that seems to work is continuous pressure on all the people who decide what is good or bad for their employees.

Just complaining is not going to cut it with these folks, one must be willing to explain how and why the blocked tools/applications can improve the productivity of the employees, and why using them will NOT put the enterprise at risk

a small aside with the Facebook access issue is Google is starting to put in place some serious competition with Facebook and the IT security folks are going to have some serious work ahead of them because Google is already a very trusted function and a significant percentage of the CIO’s are rather simple minded in their blocking procedures and suspect that they will NOT want to try and explain to all their users why Google is blocked (see discussion Facebook Versus Google )

Peter Sperry

@Henry — I think this issue touches a nerve because it highlights the nanny state attitude of many government agencies. Senior executives view their employees as children who cannot be trusted with social media toys, so they block them. Leaders who viewed their staff as adults would allow free access to the tools necessary to get the job done, while reserving the right to punish individuals who abuse that access. These are the same type of government leaders who view thier constituents as children who must be tightly controlled with voluminous laws and regulations. This type of attitude naturally breeds resentment among both employees and citizens. The only long term solution is to change the leadership team, a task beyond the capability of employees but well within reach of citizens.

Dan Munz


I think we can solve at least one piece of your problem. http://go.usa.gov is a link shortener created specifically for use by the federal government. It’s only available to federal employees and only shortens .gov or .mil links — in other words, a great way for you to share content on Twitter/Facebook/etc. while making sure your followers know that it’s safe, official, and authoritative .gov content. As you can see, it’s being pretty widely used: http://twitter.com/#search?q=go.usa.gov

Hopefully this can replace bit.ly as your shortener of choice, at least for .gov links. If you have any questions, you can ping @GoUSAGov, @mchronister, or @jedsundwall, who are the masterminds behind this awesome project.

Steven Clift

How can our governments represent the will of the people if they close themselves off from the tools used by the people to communicate? Group punishment for abuses of a few co-workers online is fundamentally Un-American – it may be OK in a private business, but this has no place in general government.

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen our democracy. There is one sign that governments in the U.S. can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and their ability to engage Americans where there are online. President Obama, if you seek democracy, if you seek open government, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Obama, open this gate. Mr. Obama, tear down this firewall! (Adapted freely.)

Keren Adderley

Up here in my Canadian municipality we are in the midst of developing a social media policy (we have approval in principle from our leadership for social media guidelines). One of things we’ve been asked to look is this very issue – how other governments (municipalities in particular) permit access (or not) to social media. I’ve heard both ends of the spectrum…provide open access and deal with misuse as a management issue, or limit access to only those who are actively using it as part of their jobs….and variations in between.
I saw a reference to a 2009 UK poll of public sector organizations in this thread, but does anyone know of any surveys done in US or Canada on what access policies various public sector employees have? The info could be over on munigov, of course, but I got distracted here first!!

Meredith Medley

Maybe it is because they are not aware of what social media is allowed on a Federal Government computer system, who knows…..

Donna L. Quesinberry

@Benjamin – again, after reading the newest posts both @Henry and @Peter have a credible point relative to what we were discussing earlier – the mindset of leadership is really what determines policy. If you are considered irresponsible unless a leader is instructing you – then Social Network Services (SNS) is apropos to those individuals.

@Rob – time with SNS is a misnomer as you can be logged into an SNS site and only interact at brain fart intervals – in the secular world we think of SNS at times as just that brain fart interval – rather than hang at the water-cooler and tell a joke or talk about who sally went out with on Friday from the public relations department – SNS sites provide a respite aside from actual work-related banter. It is, after-all, 21st Centrist Zen Time to be active in the Internet Universe, perhaps brown bag training will be required with protocols for SNS use and abuse will remand capability to engage.

@Dan the go.usa.gov sounds like the ticket for Gov2.0 & 2.1, but is there a unilateral understanding that it exists across Departments and Agencys? Misinformation and | or lack of information seem to be keg in the wheels of opportunity that make the grandiose variations in policy between organizations.

I know, for instance, the Business Transformation Agency (BTA) – recently closed by Secretary Robert N. Gates had eliminated their SNS site use totally. The IT department in their “seminar” of “welcome” said too many personnel were logged on for too many hours, which cut into productivity. At the time I thought to myself either a) those individuals were logged on, but not brain farting the entire day – it was used as the escape button for some respite now and again or b) a lot of their employee pool has addictive personas. They shared it was easier to just “remove” the program rather than designate rights and privileges based on abuse levels that personnel would just harp on. At the same time BTA had a blog that was hailed at the Agency as the newest thing since sliced bread and hallelujah; however, posting to the blog had to go through Senior Management as if someone in “their” unit got to say something about a story or post – it had to be a) sanctioned and b) given credit to the Senior Management as “their” message so as not to give the underlings a capability to jump beyond their status level. From a contractor viewpoint – federal personnel have it hard because in some agencies “status” or “political vantage points” kill a lot of freedom to act, think, participate and evolve in your environ.

As far as security – it would be interesting to read a security guru’s comments on this discussion. I have my ideas on how SNS is safely parsed, but would like “official” clarity.

~Donna O’Que.

Donna L. Quesinberry

PS – Diaspora is being released this fall and is lauded as Facebook’s replacement. Also, are most folks having to engage IT to download say HootSuite, Posturous, GovLoop, TweetDeck, LinkedIn, etc.? What about BigTent, YouTube (very much used by Government), etc.? Does your IT have to load or “okay” each load onto Gov. sites?

It is usually funny that the Government websites for varied Agencies | Departments will have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn logo – but personnel aren’t allowed to Tweet, LinkedIn or FB…we notice when we contract on site the duality of your situation.

Benjamin Strong

Wow! What great comments. The go.usa.gov site looks good, but it doesn’t help me when trying to share .com domain urls. Part of my specific program is recruiting commercial ships from around the world into a search and rescue program. Folks in China can’t access .gov or .mil accounts. I’ll certainly use it for my intranet links though…

FYI, as of 1150 hours on 31 Aug I was able to access bit.ly and log into my specific account!

Power to the people!!!

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Rob – Interesting questions:
“- Who are governments accountable to? If they are not directly answering to elected officials (representative democracy) we should examine if mass direct democracy is possible or what we mean.”
This is a big question that deserves it’s own discussion forum. If John Keane is correct about monitory democracy, we are entering an age of mass direct democracy and this will required better citizen engagement by government agencies.

“- Equality of public services, equal access to government, and the platform and language neutrality that follows from these are important democratic values that can trump others like responsiveness and innovation.”
Exactly! And this is why Google’s deal with Verizon concerns me when you consider how Google is also becoming the app platform of choice for the Federal and many state governments. Like the railroads in the late 18th century, decisions about infrastructure will have profound effects on American government and society.

“- Resources in government are scarce in terms of time and skills. Every minute a government employee spends tweeting is potentially stolen from fixing a bridge, making water safer, or homeland security.”
This invokes an image of federal employees spending their day updating their status and engaging in idle gossip. I just have to disagree with this. Given the advances in the mobile web, GIS, and augmented reality, the government worker fixing a bridge, cleaning the water, and securing the homeland can benefit from social networking applications.

Let’s take fixing the bridge as an example. The worker goes to the site and uses their smartphone to record visual details about the bridge. The images and the workers notes are transmitted back to the home office where other workers examine the images and tweet/text their analysis and suggestions. Using augmented reality apps on the phone, the worker can repair the bridge after the crowdsourced solution is arrived at.

Much of what I described can happen today (I actually worked on a Pocket PC program for pipeline workers back in 2001 that had similar features). The real advantage of social networking technologies is that it makes accessing shared wisdom much easier and brings about the benefits of crowdsourcing.

Robert Manzano

While I can agree blocking bit.ly seems like you’re limiting yourself without much gain*, there is the question of whether or not those SNS sites are being used for official business.

If they found users were spending taxpayer dollars (by utilizing time at work) to browse Facebook for example, and they saw most of the traffic was to Farmville/Private msging/posting vacation plans/etc, it would make sense to block it. (Other than some form of access to work with the Facebook pages managed by an official reps, which exceptions can be made for, note tools meant to be solely utilized internally should be hosted… well internally) In short unless there is a solid explanation of how access to these sites is benefiting the organization, the organization truly is justified in blocking them, considering SNS sites are among the most targeted sites for hackers.

Another rant… This all or none SNS mentality we tend to have bothers me… Sure, you can use Youtube to find videos related to your mission, and heck, even post them there too for your people to watch (savings in video hosting AND reach for your message, nice!); that doesn’t mean you must have 100% access to do your job as a specialist/manager. SNS sites vary as much as any other site on the web: some are useful at work, and some are play toys that are best left at home.

The eBay thing is another issue (considering most, if not all gov agencies have specific policies on where to purchase products from), and one most organizations have; no one is arguing gov organizations need ESPN or stock information to further their mission… That’s just someone in the right place skirting the rules.

I guess my thought is balance need to share with benefit to accomplish your job; and find solid examples of how it has been and will be used to benefit your organization… Then maybe the boss wont view those sites as a waste of productivity.

*People could create bit.ly urls to intranet sites, and the information contained there could possibly be used to exploit your network (iffy, but trust your data to a third party at your own peril), in which case you just block the ability to create URLs (few organizations limit your communications to 140 character chunks). That being said I assume this wasn’t the train of thought in blocking bit.ly.

Timonie Hood

Thanks for sharing your concern.

We need a Web 2.0 Report Card showing agency social media blocks so we can work together to overcome them. I’m sure it would drive talent to the more open agencies too.

To (Non-Climate) Change,


Peter Sperry

This whole discussion highlights the advantages of a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE). As long as government employees are producing the expected results at an acceptable quality level, who cares what they are doing on SNS sites? Are citizens better served by burnt out mediocrities with their noses to the grindstone producing 50 units of service a day with no personal use of SNS during work time or are they better served by relaxed professionals who produce 100 units of service a day in between tending thier fields on Farmville? Results are what count, not time spent producing them.

Henry Brown

@Robert Maybe I am too old school but… If someone breaks the rules punish them and NOT everyone else and if you make it somewhat public that employee x has broken the rules and paid the appropriate price it is very likely that the frequency of rule breaking will drop significantly assuming that the punishment fits the “crime”

@Peter wish you were correct BUT the current mindset of a significant number of managers is such that “they may let you work in a ROWE environment BUT you will work by my rules” And the way they think they can enforce it is management often provides the resources which they can control for computer/internet access and even blackberry tools

Robert Manzano

@Peter Sperry – Morale is a valid point; and we all need breaks to clear our heads so we can effectively do our job. It’s also worth noting that SNS has the innovation card in it’s pocket, it can inspire your employees to come up with new ways to do things.

That said, it’s not the time card paradigm I’m hiding behind, I’m just not convinced most employees have the discipline to balance those activities, or that it’s beneficial “enough” to outweigh a lot of the issues that come along with SNS… But I’m always open to convincing 🙂

I suppose in a perfect world… Well we’d all be relaxing on the beach.

Robin Greeley

This is ironic since the Department of Defense made the decision to allow access to Facebook and YouTube just this past spring! Go figure!

Jeffrey Levy

Benamin, I understand your frustration. My argument, and what is the current thinking at EPA, is that using social media is just like any other form of communication: speaking at a conference, going out to dinner with friends, the telephone, etc. Each time there’s a new technology, people balk. But we can use the same guiding principles: ethics, Hatch Act, management oversight, etc. That’s embedded in EPA’s guidance to employees on how to use them on an individual basis to communicate with the public, approved by our general counsel, public affairs, CIO’s shop, privacy and records management teams, and others. BTW, I posted the original Word docs so you can edit and use it as you see fit.

Again, I understand your frustration, and I don’t see why agencies continue to block social media. But don’t equate that with nothing good happening in gov’t with Gov 2.0.

At any rate, here are some tools to help your management see the light.

List of gov’t social media policies. For one thing, you’ll find the USCG memo on social media from Admiral Thad Allen. You’ll also find memos and guidance from other branches of the military, EPA’s guidance on using a raft of social media tools, and many more policies from many agencies at all levels of gov’t.

My slide deck on discussing social media with managers.

My slide deck on how we mix Web 1.0 and 2.0 for Earth Day. This might help you talk to people about how it’s not just “use social media,” but rather that you’re trying to use all available tools in a sensible strategy to accomplish your mission.

@GovNewMedia, the Twitter feed of GSA’s Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement

@CaseyColeman, GSA’s CIO on Twitter.

@BillSchrier, Seattle’s CIO/CTO on Twitter.

GovTwit, a huge directory of agencies and gov’t folks on Twitter.

I’d also encourage you to read back through my blog, where I discuss social media and the government. I’ve neglected it recently, but my posts and thinking still reflect where I am, and where I’m trying to lead EPA to be.

Jeffrey Levy
Director of Web Communications

Anita Arile

We too are blocked from social networks.. I had GovLoop unblocked when I sent a link of my interview to the IT heads… the IT is using the “Blue Coat” to identify IP’s who repeatedly go to certain web sites… yet, like in your situation, some folks have access to questionable web sites.. hmmmmm..

Steven Clift

Jeff, your slide #4 in “My slide deck on discussing social media with managers” is brilliant. What it makes clear is that to disseminate information to the people you now have to go beyond the government challenges.

Since I worked in government when the Internet was first connected to regular agencies (US House as grad intern) and Minnesota State Government, imagine if we had only allowed government staff to send outgoing e-mail messages or if the agency website was only for external use.

I have no trouble with strict use policies, even time limits on certain sites by default, but ultimately our governments are setting up blockages that make them stupid and closed. I honestly think East Germany. I think China when I hear about censoring the information and interaction available to government employees to potentially do there job. As a “citizen” I fully expect my government to interact with me in public spaces across the Internet as well as to be in a position to exchange knowledge not just in private inter-governmental e-mail listservs, but broadly in society.

Amanda Blount

WOW. I have read a few of these comments. I feel incredibly lucky! Very Lucky! Not only is FB allowed at work, it is encouraged to be used on your own time. Funny story – One head IT guy blocked FB for three months, but one of our big bosses came back from a conference and his “farm” was dying and he could not get on FB. Yep, we have FB again. Some civilians say “BIG BOSS playing farm? Wasting Government funds? NOPE. We are encouraged to actually take our lunch breaks, our morning and afternoon break, and to take as much time off as possible (one exception is July-Sep). So, a few years ago we were told it is no longer acceptable to come to work really sick, to have too much annual leave transferring year after year, to sit at our desks all day without breaks, or to work during lunch.

Our bosses do what is called “Walking around management” and if you look tired or stressed, they encourage you to go take a walk, or get a cup of coffee.

Remember we are the Dept of the Army and suicides are going up year after year, so putting some of these things in place are to teach us to balance the personal / work time management and to handle stress correctly.

Basically, giving us the tools to have “brain breaks”, on our own time, is one of the ways our agency is combating the constant stress of more work with less people (which is what we have been doing for the last 9 years).

Again, after reading these comments I am very happy with our policies. 🙂

Dan Taylor

@Benjamin — Hey there coworker! Your post hit a nerve. I just checked, and I’m able to access bit.ly from within the network again also. It would be wonderful if someone who was responsible for blocking it for a few days would take a few minutes to reply to this comment thread to explain what happened.

I’ve heard from IT professionals in our organization who will do “scream tests” with applications. They’ll turn stuff off and see who screams. We should expect better.

It’s also true that our IT security involves people. Those people make the same kind of mistakes that all of us do. Maybe an update to the Nanny software got pushed over the weekend without appropriate review. It would be great to hear from someone who knows.

Bit.ly isn’t absolutely mission critical for me. No lives were lost because it didn’t work for a few days. But it’s a handy tool to let me work more efficiently. Since the search function of CG Portal is horrible, bit.ly was a great utility to share the landing site for my project’s site.

I also use just about every day as a shortcut for the project blog I maintain over on Intelink. It provides an easy way for me to access the link from any computer on the CG or DoD network: http://bit.ly/cglims. That’s what I was doing on Sunday when I noticed bit.ly was blocked.

I’ve started using go.usa.gov more often. I applaud the folks who started that effort and shipped it, but it is lacking in two key ways: (1) it requires a login each time I want to use it, and (2) one cannot create custom URLs.

As for opening GovLoop, I spent several hours working through the system to explain why our blocking of it was inconsistent with the Commandant’s guidance. I never got a real answer and why it was blocked or why it was un-blocked. Eventually access was opened up, but we never got the benefit of an explanation on the process.

It’s true that IT folks have always had bigger fish to fry than whether GovLoop or Bit.ly or Twitter are available. My fight for GovLoop access started the same time as the CG response to the earthquake in Haiti. There’s no doubt which is the priority. Eventually my hope is that these social networking tools are an integral part the fabric of the agency, so we don’t see them as something additional, but they are just part of how we execute our mission.

Maybe the first small step in that direction would be for someone who knows why bit.ly was blocked to either add a comment here or to send Ben or me an e-mail that we can post here to explain.

Benjamin Strong

@Jeffrey- thank you for the links and being one of the few CIO/IT level folks to chime in and offer some insight. EPA is pretty forward thinking and has embraced these tools a bit more openly than other agencies. The link you provide about USCG Social Media policy under Admiral Allen is dated, however, having a change of command and a new Commandant. While I won’t say that the new command is less inclined to engage in social media, but we are “steadying the force” which looks as if we will not be leaning forward in additional social tools (not really a bad thing in my opinion).

I know this is going to sound paranoid, and perhaps it will echo a bit what Dan said, but I really believe our IT people block things at will. They believe we are using some of these emerging tools to subvert current prohibitions and they just block stuff. There doesn’t seem to be a threat matrix or other justification used. If there is a threat matrix it isn’t shared with the end user. As far as requesting an exemption to blocks I will state it again, our IT people hide in the shadows and will not communicate with the user. I have examples of legitimate requests for access (to Flickr for uploading photos- my job is in public affairs) goes in the IT machine and no replies are sent.

I understand the need for various levels of the Federal government to have tiered access to some sites but there needs to be uniformity.

Dan is right, we should expect better than “scream tests”.

Until clear direction comes from above (the White House, GSA, DHS, DoD CIO types) with implementation guidelines AND sanctions for noncompliance, I am afraid he standard policy will be whatever the local IT shop decides.

Neil Bonner

My agency also block Facebook and Bit.ly. They finally opened Twitter back up after blocking it for a few months. Very frustraing and demoralizing to say the least.

David A. Streat

Having been in DoD for a long time and realizing that its sites are attacked all day everyday I understand the reluctance to unblock some sites. But even I was a little annoyed and frustrated that sites that were available was being blocked. The other side of the coin is what if we (the government) allows unfettered access to any site, how would you control that and how would that impact productivity? There is a fine line that has to be drawn. Also, not everybody fully understands how to properly use and not abuse privileges.

Jeffrey Levy

@Stephen: glad you liked it. I have to give credit to the creator: Jeremy Caplan at Commerce.

@Benjamin: I agree with you. But I I work in public affairs, not IT. Here at EPA, communications drives tech (subject to legit concerns, of course), not the other way around. That said, we’ve been fortunate to have CIOs who understand our needs. Go up the communications chain and see whether you can get support.

Benjamin Strong

@Jeffrey- I love that line “communications drives tech”. Great perspective. One of my favorite podcasts Marketing Over Coffee encourages the marriage of the IT folks and the PR/Marketing team (disclosure, Amver won a Marketing Over Coffee award in 2010- go me!)

I do think things will eventually become more uniform. I don’t think my situation is unique, I am sure other agencies are suffering the same challenges. We can’t ignore the evolution of the interwebs!

Do I really truly believe gov 2.0 is a failure? Nah. But sometimes it sure feels like I am pushing a rope up a hill!

Kitty Wooley

Yeah, I know; we have a similar situation and it’s making some of us feel a little schizophrenic. I can get to LinkedIn; can’t get to GovLoop. Can get to YouTube; can’t get to Twitter. Can get to my research bookmarks (thank goodness); can’t get to some professional leadership or technology blogs.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Shelley – I’ve suggested this before but I believe the best solution is twofold:
1) Buy software that allows access to the social networking sites but sets reasonable security policies (Facetime).
2) Every week, a report of all the websites an employee visits and the time they spend on the site is generated and sent to the employee’s manager.

With this you have the proactive approach in that usage can be limited and content filtered while you have the accountability in that the manager knows exactly how the employee is using the Internet at work. Knowing that a report will be made will immediately stop those who spend the day loafing on the Internet and accessing “questionable” sites.

For the folks who legitimately use social networking sites, the report can be a great communication tool between the manager and employee about the benefits of social networking. When the manager sees how social networking leads to better knowledge sharing and problem-solving, much of the fear that employees are wasting their time on the Internet will disappear.

What drives the current state of frustration is that there is a lack of dialogue. IT doesn’t really communicate with the users before they enact policies and the users react in anger at IT for implementing arbitrary policies. Management takes the easy route of just making the problem disappear by blocking everything – just to be “safe.” It’s rather ironic that we talk about engaging the citizen when, in many agencies, the different levels need better internal engagement.

Kitty Wooley

Not a bad idea, but I haven’t seen any mention of the opportunity cost that’s associated with not deploying and mastering social media for mission-related purposes. If employees aren’t using social media tools, they aren’t learning how to leverage them to (a) deliver citizen services or (b) connect employees across boundaries, so that they can engage in best-practice dialogue and coordinate their actions on behalf of the public. Social media and interactivity are here to stay, and we are behind the curve on this, whereas we should be leading.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Shelley – You make great points and I fully agree with you. Unfortunately the message has already been sent and this is why Benjamin wrote this post.

It is ridiculous to trust employees to manage vital programs and then have them spend time and effort writing up “Business Case Exceptions” so that they can download a free piece of software to do their job better. It’s great that your organization management allows people to access their personal email on their personal time but many organizations don’t allow that. As some of the comments to this post demonstrate, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in what sites are blocked.

Yes you are right in if we treat adults like adults that most will act responsibly. But those aren’t the people making the headlines. Consider the SEC employees who were accessing porn or the misbehavior at Minerals Management. It may be a small minority but I believe their actions are driving current policies.

The idea behind the reports is twofold. The ones who abuse the system will think twice before wasting time web-surfing if they know they may have to account for every site they visit. This doesn’t stop them from using their personal devices to waste time but at least it keeps them off the work systems.

For the folks who use the web legitimately, they should have no problem accounting for their web use. I hate that this is essentially “guilty until proven innocent” but I am hopeful that this can also be the impetus for a dialogue between the employees and their managers on the benefits of Gov 2.0.

I’m also hopeful that after a couple of months of reviewing these weekly reports, managers will grow tired of this micromanaging burden and focus on “whether or not the work is getting done to the required standard.”

Jaime Gracia

Great discussion. Seems to me that if the DoD can make strides in ensuring security, then there really is no excuse for other agencies to not work collaboratively to solve issues and work towards really empowering workers to use Web 2.0 for not only productivity, but for morale purposes. Treat people like adults and give them the respect they deserve.

Dan Matthews

Changes come slowly to the Fed my friend. Bandwidth is the cry from C levels, but really, how will they ever interact with the citizens if they cannot get their collective selves together and solve these issues. More later . . .

Benjamin Strong

Thanks Dan. Glad to see this post keeps generating interest. I’m looking forward to what you may have to share later…