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.

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* 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.



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