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www.federaltimes.com hese are times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.” These are powerful words, written by Revolutionary War pamphleteer Thomas Paine in “The Crisis.” Using the communications technology of his day, Paine stirred public debate about the By CASEY COLEMAN war, which until then had been the purview of the political elite. The parallels between Paine’s “Common Sense” writings and the rise of citizen engagement through social media today are striking. The Web and social media are fundamentally changing the way government interacts with citizens, creating a new way in which public debate can occur. Call it a new American revolution. Democrat Howard Dean’s
By MARK DRAPEAU and LINTON WELLS II
August 24, 2009
FEDERAL TIMES 23
presidential campaign in 2004 was among the first to break the restraints of “traditional” political advertising, turning to the Web to build a political groundswell. In his book “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Dean’s political campaign manager Joe Trippi wrote, “When people know they are being heard, they will speak up, and when they speak up, they will offer ideas that never occurred to you.” In 2008, the Obama campaign rode the same wave to victory. Is it any surprise we have an administration committed to transparency, public participation and collaboration? The bottom line is that government serves people better when it makes decisions based on citizen input. Web 2.0 makes that happen. Web 2.0 disseminates information through multiple channels, allowing citizens to receive it where and when they
Technology connects citizens to government
want it — and they can respond back in kind. Feedback is nearly instantaneous. What used to be called the digital divide is fading. When hundreds if not thousands of applications are available on a relatively low-cost appliance, even the so-called “have nots” have the ability to participate. The General Services Administration’s experience with Web 2.0 reveals some staggering numbers. USA.gov, the federal government’s one-stop shop for information, received more than 116 million visits and search queries in fiscal 2009. We also had more than 18 million visits to other GSA Web sites, such as GobiernoUSA.gov, our Spanish-language equivalent to USA.gov. These sites have an active presence on Facebook, with more than 2,100 fans combined, and active Twitter profiles, used to distribute timely government information. Numbers like these show that
The Web 2.0 revolution
the public is hungry for information and answers and, most importantly, to participate in government. At GSA, we have developed a framework to help feds engage with our citizens. We made it easier for federal agencies to use new media tools, while meeting legal requirements, by signing terms of service agreements with new media services such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube. Agencies interested in using the new media tools can consider signing these agreements, available at www .usa.gov/webcontent/resources/ tools/TOSagreements.shtml. More than 25 agencies have signed the YouTube agreement, for example, and created channels on YouTube. We also recently launched the official U.S. Government YouTube channel with more than 200 videos from 25 agencies arranged in 12 playlists, including one in Spanish, with
many more to come. As additional agencies create YouTube channels, GSA will add them to the U.S. Government channel. And it’s not just GSA; the Education Department created College.gov, a hip, interactive Web site geared toward ninththrough 12th-graders. It was built in collaboration with students, so it really is peer-topeer. Data.gov, a White House initiative, features information from dozens of federal agencies, an unprecedented — and growing — step in support of government transparency. There are hundreds of examples of cutting- edge Web and new media sites that are popping up in the federal government. We’re in the midst of a new era where citizens can truly have a say in how their government operates. Citizen engagement, participation and collaboration are essential to a government “by the people, for the people.” I think if Thomas Paine were alive today, he would be proud. And one can only imagine what he could do with a laptop instead of his trusty quill pen. å
Casey Coleman is chief information officer at the General Services Administration.
ocial software, sometimes called Web 2.0 technology, connects people and information via online, informal networks. Increasingly, experts agree that serendipitous social connections can generate unexpected individual knowledge, and increase organizational adaptability, efficiency and effectiveness. Creation, collaboration and community are terms commonly associated with these trends. Despite these potential benefits, valid concerns about cybersecurity, time management and online privacy have often led national security institutions to restrict social software tools in the workplace. Information security concerns are serious and must be addressed. Our adversaries are effectively using Web 2.0 innovations to our disadvantage. By ignoring these challenges, our restrictions can diminish our national security. Generational gaps in our workplaces also must be addressed. More than half of service members — and many
Defense Department civilians and contractors — were born after 1980. These “digital natives,” who have had mobile phones since their teens, do not see Web 2.0 as innovative, but rather as their primary means for connecting to other people in their lives, at work and at play. Case studies show that social software, when used properly, can empower individuals and enhance information sharing within the government, between government employees and communities of interest, between researchers and government data, between the government and its citizens, and between governments of different countries. Nevertheless, strategic, tactical and organizational pitfalls must be addressed before pressing forward with DoD adoption. Strategically, agencies involved in national security missions need coordinated policies and guidelines for using social software tools within their enterprises, between agencies or other entities, and with the public. Inconsistent
Social sharing has national security role
government approaches lead to confusion and inconsistency, which are problematic since information-sharing tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and StumbleUpon have become effective earlywarning systems for raw information about everything from Chinese earthquakes to Iranian election protests. Since it is not always obvious how government employees should interact with raw sources of information about such incidents, the absence of guidance leads to guessing, ineffective use and workarounds. Tactically, government personnel should be provided approved information-sharing technology to collaborate responsibly within and among government enterprises and, to some degree, with outside experts. Intelligence community initiatives such as Intelink and BRIDGE show the contributions these tools can make to predictable information sharing. Yet, social software that connects government employees with outsiders in unpredictable ways can be equally
important. To promote this, security professionals should bin commercial social software into four broad categories: acceptable for use within protected enclaves, acceptable for use outside firewalls, suitable for general use with appropriate guidelines and not suitable for government use. Recognizing that new vulnerabilities can emerge quickly, authoritative security information about social software platforms can help officials make better decisions about how to use them. Organizationally, social software can yield many advantages, but only if deployed, trained on, monitored, managed and used properly. Handson experience can unlock self-organizing capabilities within the government, promote networking and collaboration with groups outside the government, speed effective decision-making, and improve understanding of how nefarious groups use the software. Incorporating social software into day-to-day work practices should also decrease the proba-
bility of being surprised or outmaneuvered. But this requires that senior decision makers see the big picture, managers incorporate appropriate tools effectively, and workers learn continuously how best to use ever-evolving software. The proliferation of social software in society at large has important ramifications for U.S. national security. Governments that harness its potential can interact better with citizens, anticipate emerging issues, and tackle tough internal problems. Telephones once were reserved for office use, and computers were stand-alones. Eventually the value of connectivity outweighed isolation. So it also will be for social software. Because it can add significant value to many ongoing missions, and since citizens, allies and opponents will use it regardless, national security institutions should understand what responsible use means, and leverage it. å
Mark Drapeau is an associate research fellow and Linton Wells II is the transformation chair at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington.