Saturday, August 25, 2012

No Sequestration Without Internal Communication

By Dannielle Blumenthal, Chair, FCN

Last year, during the near-government shutdown, official Agency communication in my neck of the woods was minimal. One was left, largely, to turn to the Washington Post and GovLoop for guidance, or to ask one's supervisor "what's going on?"

What I wanted, really, was an official document with clear information - not to go to the grapevine or my boss. Indeed, supervisors "are NOT the preferred communicators," at least according to metrics specialist Angela Sinickas

If Agencies are reluctant to put words on paper, it's understandable: They don't want to issue incorrect information, or to scare people unnecessarily. But silence in the face of impending disaster isn't strategic either, because it breeds a lingering unease and mistrust. And briefings to say "we don't know anything" aren't helpful either. 

It's incumbent on communicators to do their homework and know what the impact of a potentially negative event could be, and then brief out Agency leadership so that they're ready, willing and able to issue communications and answer questions. 

Here's a "Top 5" a list of things people will want to know - some of it specific to their agency environments. We are nearing September 1st, so there are four months to get our collective acts together and answer these questions. 
  1. What is sequestration? Answer: "mandatory cuts to Federal programs" that were previously funded
  2. How would sequestration affect funding of my Agency, my function, and my job specifically? Answer: OMB is telling Agencies not to divert resources to planning, so not sure yet - but the cuts involve $1.2 trillion, half of which is coming from Federal agencies. There are varying opinions regarding the impact on contractors, but they would likely be hard-hit. One estimate has 108,000 DoD civilians furloughed or laid off and "the report did not estimate the impact on non-DoD agencies, which would be even larger."
  3. What specific events would occur in the event of sequestration - what is the calendar? Answer: The trigger date is January 2, 2013. In the event no agreement is reached by then, OMB would work with the Agency to figure out what to do.
  4. How will the government services I rely on be affected? Postal service, healthcare, flights, passport? Answer: We don't know yet.
  5. Where can I go to find out more information? Answer: Start with OMB memo dated July 31, 2012. From there, Google and cross-compare sources. Make sure not to present opinion as fact. 
If by chance you develop language that can be used by others, please share it here (as a comment), at our LinkedIn group (feds only please), or on GovLoop.


* We at FCN still remember Sinickas' 2009 presentation at the FBI, which completely rocked the house. The FBI historians' tour of HQ was incredible as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Federal Communicators: 5 Highly Effective, Low-Hassle Ways To Find Out What People Are Asking About Your Agency

Posted by Dannielle Blumenthal, Chair, FCN

If you're a Federal communicator, you've probably run into the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 at some point. Basically, if you want to do survey research, it has to be reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) first. 

Although there is of course lots of guidance out there (here's a great FAQ from HHS) this process is still somewhat daunting for the average person. If you're just looking to take the pulse of the public, for example, here are 5 ways to do so fairly simply:

  1. Use a search engine to search your agency and use the "Search Tools" feature on the left-hand navigation of the screen to restrict the time frame of the search to "past 24 hours," "past week," or a custom date range. You can also search all mentioned, blog mentions only, or even discussion board mentions only.
  2. Search social media and websites developed interactively by the public - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Wikipedia. Use the name of your agency, a leader, or a keyword representing an issue of interest. You can also use free tools like Addictomatic ( to get a quick at-a-glance view.
  3. Visit Quora, the publicly available Q&A board, and see the Board specifically set aside for the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal government (here), or simply type keywords into the search box.
  4. Use a free tool like, which searches Twitter for questions around specific subjects, to see what people are asking. It may take time to come up with the right keywords.  
  5. A simple, low-tech solution: Take the time to engage employees in conversations to learn what they are thinking about, and how current issues involving the agency are affecting them.
While there are many times a regular survey is needed, there are others when it's not.