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The Gov 2.0 Condundrum

Without a doubt, there’s a lot to be gained when government leverages Web 2.0 tools to provide better communications and service. But for every success story there seems to be an equal number of roadblocks preventing public servants from venturing into Gov 2.0. Last week there was a Congressional hearing before the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee on the use of Web 2.0 Technologies by Federal agencies. The hearing was a review of Federal use of Web 2.0 technology and an examination of the records management implication of those technologies.

Dr. David McClure, Associate Administrator of the GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies gave testimony about the strides US Federal agencies have made to leverage Web 2.0 technologies. Several case studies were cited such as the State Department utilizing social media to mobilize their response to the Haiti earthquake or the numerous mashups that have spawned from Government data. Reading McClure’s testimony and accompanying timeline reminds that the Federal government has not merely jumped on the 2.0 bandwagon, but uses the technology to innovate the way agencies deliver on their mission. Despite these examples, not enough agencies are fully leveraging Web 2.0. A recent study by Harris Interactive found that 57% of US citizens feel that agencies are not taking the Open Government Directive seriously. My experience working in the Federal sector has also shown that many agencies struggle to formally adopt Web 2.0 practices.

The reasons for slow (or no) adoption of Web 2.0 can be linked back to restrictions that are unique to Federal government. Gregory Wilshusen, Director of the Information Security Issues of the General Accountability Office (GAO) also gave testimony before the Congressional sub-committee and spoke about the privacy and records management risks that inhibit agencies from jumping into the 2.0 fray. The potential value of using social media and new technologies to enable government is great, but at the same time, agency leaders are confronted with very real concerns related to Federal privacy and records management issues. Increasingly, agency leaders will find themselves confronted with conflicting expectations. On the one hand, the demand for Gov 2.0 increases, while at the same time, the outcry against collecting personally identifiable information and maintaining and providing access to public records are equally high.

At the Federal level, steps are being taken to evaluate existing laws and mandates in light of Web 2.0. OMB recently clarified how the Paperwork Reduction Act applies to social media and use of third-party tools, like Facebook. During the Congressional hearing, David Ferriero, U.S. archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration testified that NARA will release updated policy and guidance on how Web 2.0 platforms affect records management.

GSA, OMB and NARA are all making a strong effort, under the direction of the current administration, to re-think standard operations for government in light of new technology and citizen expectations. Agency leaders should follow this example and evaluate their own policies to determine if they need to be updated to keep pace with Web expectations. Existing policy concerning privacy, records, security and information quality are critical for maintaining the credibility of government agencies. But given the change in technology and the need for citizen engagement online, leaders should be proactive in making sure those policies are current. Without clear direction and top-level policy leadership, Federal Web managers will be limited in their ability to realize the full potential for Gov 2.0.

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Stephen Buckley

I agree that the OpenGov leadership needs to do a better job of explaining what it wants its own people (i.e., federal employees) to accomplish. (Ironically, they have just not made it sufficiently clear, i.e., transparent.)

Example: In collaboration with OSTP, OMB issues the OpenGov Directive that tells federal agencies to each come up with an implementation plan that, BTW, includes the ways for measuring progress in improving “transparency, participation and collaboration”.

So what “measures” do federal agencies see when they read the OpenGov implementation for OMB (and OSTP)? They see that OMB and OSTP are essentially clueless about how to measure their own progress in OpenGov.

It will be very hard for agencies to make progress in OpenGov, when the leadership within the White House (OMB/OSTP) haven’t yet figured out what it is that will constitute progress!

In the meantime, here are some programs on OpenGovRadio (back in February) where we talk about possible metrics for measuring the progress of Open Government.

“Engagement-Lite” and the OpenGov Dashboard (2/2/10, OpenGovRadio)
(and then see the link to KDPaine’s blog-post on OpenGov)

How to Measure Success in OpenGov (2/23/10, OpenGovRadio)

Earl E. Appleby, Jr.

I appreciate the fact that your clear reporting and sound analysis are enhanced by a plethora of links to source material, which affords an opportunity for informing one’s own assessment. Well done and most appreciated.

Lori Hudson

Thank you for this thoughtful analysis of where government is…and where it should be…in regards to advancing technology and 2.0
Unfortunately, local government lags even further behind. We are waiting and watching (in most cases) to see what happens at the federal level.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.

Privacy is also a big, big concern folks have about Internet voting. This year over 33 states will try to implement the MOVE Act (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.) Some of them will allow votes to be returned by FAX or email attachment. Those are the least secure ways of conducting Internet voting. Logging on to a secure website is far more trustworthy. Then the voter’s ID can be separated from the vote and never be connected. But with FAX and email the name is going to be connected to the vote — good bye privacy!

Some states require a signed waiver of the right to privacy as a condition of online voting.

We can do better than that!

I think I will learn a lot from more pieces like Christine’s. Hope you all will visit my new discussion group, Internet Voting USA.