Government Opens Doors Wider to Social Media

Many people rely on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and wikis to stay connected to people and companies that matter to them. Last week, the federal government took big steps toward being able to use social media and the Internet to communicate with the public, without as much red tape.

On April 7, federal agencies issued Open Government Plans that, according to the White House blog, will “make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight.” The scope and ambitiousness of these plans vary by agency, but initiatives include:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Health Data Initiative, which will provide the public with downloadable data on community healthcare costs, quality, access and public health, along with plans to use that data to develop programs and tools that spark community health performance improvements.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Innovation Initiative, which will ask VA employees, private sector entrepreneurs and academic leaders to contribute the best ideas for innovations to increase veteran access to VA services, reduce or control service delivery costs, enhance VA operations performance, and improve the quality of service veterans and their families receive.
  • The Department of Energy’s OpenEI.gov Initiative, which is a free, editable wiki that provides a large number of clean energy resources, data and tools to spur the adoption of clean energy technologies around the world.

In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new guidance on how the Open Government initiative will work alongside existing regulations, like the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). Notably, this new OMB guidance clarifies that certain uses of social media and web-based tools by federal agencies are excluded from lengthy OMB PRA reviews. This guidance addresses, among other things, use of Federal wiki pages; webinars; blogs; and online message boards.

The social media community has been quick to publicize the government’s incorporation of social media vehicles into these Open Government Plans; Facebook, for example, posted that: “Did you know that the State Department plans to increase public engagement on Facebook by 25% in 2011? Did you know the U.S. embassy in Jakarta has more than 120,000 fans? Did you know that the Department of Veterans Affairs is the 3rd most Facebook-friended Cabinet level agency?”

Federal agencies now have more leeway to embrace social media tools and resources without waiting months for OMB approval. This will enable the government to work toward more engaging, collaborative online interaction with the public. This also serves as a timely reminder to non-government organizations, including financial services companies, that social media and online communications vehicles can prompt more transparency and open dialogue with their customers and key stakeholders.

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