Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

5 Ways to Help Your Congressional Liaison

By: Chris Trent, Mar. 25, 2013

I’d like to introduce you to someone: your agency’s Congressional Liaison. She might have any of a variety of phrases in her title, such as “Legislative Specialist” or “Intergovernmental Affairs,” but I’ll just call her the same thing I call myself.

What does your Congressional Liaison do exactly? Well, it can vary. Some are strategic advisors who provide political counsel to the agency. Others draft and review legislation that impacts your agency’s mission. She may be segregated from the budget office or closely aligned with it. She may work hand in glove with your public affairs office or be totally aloof from it. What all Congressional Liaisons have in common is their peculiar audience: Capitol Hill.

photo of U.S. Capitol
via Flickr, from Architect of the Capitol, U.S. Gov't work
Your Congressional Liaison should be involved in strategic planning from the beginning. If the ultimate goal is to have something happen on the Hill she’ll guide you along the most effective path. She may, conversely, advise that the Hill should not be your goal at all, saving your organization months or even years of misdirected effort. Work with your Congressional Liaison and she’ll help you put your best foot forward.

If you don’t know your agency’s Congressional Liaison, locate her and introduce yourself. If you are your agency’s Congressional Liaison, please attend our meetings every second Tuesday at the secret cave under Union Station. Just kidding! Please share your own experiences in the comments.

Five Ways You Can Help Your Congressional Liaison

1. Remember this maxim: Timeliness > Thoroughness
Although bills take many years to progress from being introduced to being signed into law, the nakedly political environment means that all information is needed ASAP. No matter how good the information is, it’s useless if it’s delivered after the vote.

This is not to say that you should fudge the facts to get your Congressional Liaison information faster. You should, however, appreciate that the information is more important than the formatting. Just get the answers she needs, and let her worry about how to phrase it.

2. Be aware of your unknown unknowns
Assuming there are no Canadians reading this, we all enjoy a Constitutional right to petition our Government (even if we are the very employees charged with processing such petitions). However, although I encourage all of you to exercise your rights, have the humility to know that you may not be aware of all the details of what’s happening on the Hill.

One of your Congressional Liaison’s duties is to keep your agency from stepping in it, so to speak. If she suggests that perhaps a different course of action is warranted, hear her out.

3. Be a source of local intel
Notwithstanding the previous suggestion, your Congressional Liaison also may not be fully briefed on the details of a given issue. If there are local advocates who feel strongly, or a mayor who’s been railing against your agency, let your Congressional Liaison know.

It may not be immediately apparent how such information is pertinent, but one never knows how the web of public opinion will connect to Capitol Hill.

4. Treat all communications as if they were going up to the Hill
They used to say, “Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Washington Post.” This does not mean that your Congressional Liaison needs to review every single tweet. It does mean that communications should pass the sniff test. This is a habit we should all develop for every sort of communication, from emails to press releases.

Any communication, for good reasons or for bad, can end up in the hands of a Member of Congress at any time; edit accordingly.

5. Think of Congress as more than an ATM
Too often I hear colleagues lament that Congress is not doing its job of funding the Federal Government. Appropriating funds from the Treasury is one of Congress’s jobs. It does this, however, by writing laws. This is why it’s called the Legislative Branch, not the Bookkeeping Branch.

In my opinion, Congress is like a standing focus group for America. Treat it like as a source of information, not just appropriations. If you really want to know how your agency is meeting its mission, Congress will let you know.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Escalation Processes: Using Carrots and Sticks Together

By: Scott Horvath, Mar. 18, 2013
Photo of Scott Horvath

Managing communications policy and processes for an agency is no easy task. If it’s your job to deal with the multitude of rules and executive memoranda that relate to websites, press releases, use of logos, and the like, then you know how difficult it can be to continually fulfill those various requirements. You’ve also likely worked with a few offices or programs that have a tendency to ignore those requirements, or perhaps their communications support staff simply no longer exists.

Dealing with Noncompliance - Two Approaches

To deal with noncompliance at your agency and effectively implement policy requirements, you need to have a governance structure in place to help address potential problems when they occur. Some agencies tend to take the carrot approach as a problem resolver:
Diagram of a man holding a bat and some money, titled carrot-and-stick management
Flickr user dgray_xplane, Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0

“It appears there’s an issue with your website. We recommend that you fix this issue to further improve our visitor experience. Please let us know if you need any assistance.”

While other agencies break out the stick:

“Your site has a problem. You’re in violation of Section 1(A), subpart 3(d). If you do not fix this issue in the next 24 hours, your site will be shut down and access to all files on the server terminated.”

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The “carrot” resolution is meant to be less intense, make the people or office in question aware of the problem, and provide help when needed. However, this approach sometimes comes off as being weak, too sensitive to hurt feelings, etc. The “stick” resolution is meant to be forceful, direct, a call to immediate action — we mean business! However this approach can sometimes come off as abrasive, unwilling to help, disrespectful, and overly controlling. Despite the stark differences, you can have both options at your disposal through a carefully crafted issue escalation process.

The Solution- Deploy an Escalation Process

There are a number of different approaches to an escalation process. Here is one option related to web governance: a base for you to consider for your own efforts.

Escalation Process Diagram. Full text description of this diagram is available in the main content area below.
Escalation Process Diagram, courtesy Scott Horvath.

With a little creativity, you can adapt the approach above to just about any communications (or other) policy or process issue and deal with problems in a consistent and appropriate way.

How do you escalate? Share your tips in the Comments, below.

Text Version of Escalation Process Diagram

For use by those with screenreaders, and others who want more detail about the escalation process I use.
  1. Resolution Team (RT) runs monthly scans of all website for policy requirements testing.
  2. The RT identifies issues with a website.
    • They notify the Website Point of Contact, and Website Developer.
  3. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.
  4. If the issues is not resolved, the RT notifies: 
    • Website POC
    • Website Developer
      • inquires about the resolution issue
      • offers assistance in solving the issue
      • requests a response within 4 days of this notice
  5. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.
  6. If this issue is not resolved, the RT notifies:
    •  Subdomain POC 
    •  Website POC
    •  Website Developer
      • indicates issues not resolved
      • offers assistance in solving the issue
      • requires 48 hour response
      • requires resolution within 3 weeks
  7. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.
  8. If the issue is not resolved, the RT notifies:
    •  Regional Director/Area Director
    •  Communications Director
    •  Subdomain POC
    •  Website POC 
    •  Website Developer 
      •   indicates issues not resolved 
      •   requires resolution within 1 week
  9. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.
  10. If the issue is not resolved, the RT notifies:
    •  Deputy Director 
    •  Regional Director/Area Director 
    •  Communications Director 
    •  Subdomain POC
    •  Firewall Team 
    •  Website POC
    •  Website Developer 
      • provides full history of resolution attempts and escalation 
  11. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.
  12. If the issue is not resolved, the RT: 
    • requests subdomain shutdown from firewall team within 24 hours 
    • website remains “off” until full resolution occurs
  13. If the issue is resolved, the RT is notified and monthly scans continue as normal.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Emails Are Meant To Be Forwarded

By: Dannielle Blumenthal, past FCN Board Chair, Mar. 13, 2013
U.S. Mail Letter Box
Flickr user Angelskiss31, Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

You know these. You receive one that’s clearly not intended for you, like “RE: SYSTEM DOWNTIME 2 A.M. FOR SUBDIVISION A IN NEBRASKA #00243.”
Sometimes, bleary-eyed from the firehose of email you receive every day, you reply




But if you hit the wrong key, and the list is sufficiently flexible as to who can send, suddenly you’ve emailed the entire world – “REPLY ALL.”

And then, the strange paradox that they too will hit the same button – “REPLY ALL.”

Until everyone is emailing everyone, insisting that they stop sending emails.

Some take on the role of schoolmarm: “STOP REPLYING ALL, IT’S NOT HELPING”

Some find long-lost friends from high school: “HEY, HOW’S IT GOING IN TIMBUKTU?”

Others issue vague yet meaningless warnings: “IF THIS DOESN’T STOP, I’M CALLING THE CIO.”
Man looking horrified
Flickr user cdresz, Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0

Somewhere in the back and forth an IT person makes an appearance, at 3 a.m., after getting the phone call with someone likely screaming “FIX THIS NOW #$!@#$!@#$”

And so these eloquent words appear, not coincidentally, in a “reply all”:


I’ve seen this happen a few times over the past ten years or so and it’s one of those disasters that people love to laugh about.

But even if you lock down the mail list, you can’t put a lid on the #1 law of email which is:


Even if it’s just sent to ten friends, like the ‘70s commercial “they tell their friends, and their friends, and their friends.”

And so on – potentially leading to a major PR disaster.

Worse yet, when the content of the email is particularly juicy, it is inevitable that email law #2 kicks in:


Marking the email with some language that says it is sensitive could stop the recipient from sending it. Maybe or maybe not – you’re relying on human nature.

One thing is for sure. When the Internet gets its hands on a good corporate email it’s like they’ve had a great day at fishing. Who can forget:

· The “physically together” Yahoo anti-telecommuting missive
· The “epic” Whole Foods resignation letter
· The “Fox Mole”

I still like email as a means of corporate communication, don’t get me wrong. It gets to the inbox. It’s actually meant to be forwarded around.

But at the end of the day, an announcement board is more efficient. No muss, no fuss, no mistaken spamming and you can make corrections or broken links.

Of course this takes some of the fun out of work. But not to worry – there will always be other things to laugh about. As we, being human, will always find other ways to screw up.

* All opinions my own.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Let's Join Hands: Accomplish More Through Collaboration!

Posted by: Yvette Grimes, Mar. 11, 2013 
Photo of LEGO men working together on a project
Flickr user Lollyman, Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0
You probably heard of the saying “two is better than one." Any manager can tell you that this applies to not just to individuals, but to organizations as well. Government agencies can realize benefits from collaboration, with other agencies, nonprofits, private sector businesses, or even with individuals. Collaboration helps agencies, and federal communicators, combine and maximize their resources while reaching their target audience. Here are some examples of federal collaboration in action:

  • Many of the award winning activities in the HHSinnovates competition involve two agencies or offices partnering to accomplish innovative goals. For example, NIH and CDC collaborated with Home Box Office (HBO), Institute of Medicine, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente on a health education campaign. Read other stories of HHSinnovates award winners for inspiring stories of collaboration.
  • FEMA has gotten great press for its effort to crowdsource disaster readiness. What is crowdsourcing but collaboration? The FEMA challenge invited "prepare our communities before disaster strikes and how the government can support community-based activities to help everyone be more prepared." Read more about the winner, Map Your Neighborhood.

What exactly is collaboration?

Let's keep the definition simple: Collaboration is working together with organizations or individuals that share your interests and or mission.  

Here are 4 tips to collaborate and build great collaboration relationships:

1. Research and identify potential partners.

There are various ways to find potential partners to collaborate that share your interests or mission. These ways might include personal networks, but they could also include internet research and special events or conferences.

2. Develop a relationship.

Have formal and informal meetings, attend special functions, call, email, and tweet.  Discuss how the relationship can benefit all involved.

3. Communicate effectively.

Communication with partners and stakeholders is the key to maintain relationships. Keep stakeholders in the loop, maintain an ongoing dialogue about your shared activities, and be sure you have partners priorities and goals in mind - they might have shifted.

4. Have conflict plan.

Smooth sailing is great, however there is no guarantee that will happen all the time. Who is the key person to deal with should problems arise? What are the steps to resolve the issue?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Write a Guest Post for the FCN Blog

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Mar. 6, 2013

Got a hot topic in mind, something of interest to people doing communications work for the U.S. government? We publish tips, tricks, and observations for federal communicators in the FCN blog, including pieces on media relations, publications, education campaign, public information office, call center, visitor's center, and related activities. Build your web writing skills, and add a byline to your portfolio by writing a guest blog post. To be considered as a guest author, send an email to Larry Orluskie and Britt Ehrhardt with your ideas.

Guidelines for guest posts on the Federal Communicators Network blog:

  • Authors should be federal employees or contractors, as well as members of FCN. (There's no membership fee. Join us, and become a member of FCN.)
  • Posts need to be 500 words or less, on non-commercial topics of broad interest. 
  • FCN Board will review submissions, and will work with authors to make edits if needed.

Check out recent posts on the blog to see what others have done, including Linda Austin writing about government messaging, and Rachel Flagg writing about the helpful website

Monday, March 4, 2013

Types of Media Interviews - Larry's Tips

Posted by: Larry Orluskie, March 4, 2013

This piece was originally published in the FCN email newsletter. Didn't get it? Sign up.


The reporter may quote verbatim the spokesperson by name and title.


The spokesperson provides information that may not be used, but is for a reporter’s understanding of an issue.


The reporter may use verbatim the material, but may not identify the spokesperson by name or title. The reporter and spokesperson agree regarding attribution.

Deep Background

The reporter may use verbatim the material, but may not identify the individual, title, or place of employment. Reporters use general attribution, like “sources said . . .” Most often, this kind of interview is controversial and discouraged.