GSA not ‘awesome’ when it comes to implied endorsement

I’m all for public-private collaboration.

GSA’s Office of Citizen Services is one of my favorite ideas for a government agency and inter-agency service. The work it does is fantastic, and its leadership is exceptional.

I’m also a big fan of GovLoop and have a great relationship with founder Steve Ressler. Steve has been gracious enough to feature me as a ‘GovLoop Member of the Week,’ and I regularly try to post updates on what’s happening over there.

Having said that, I’m wary of GSA’s implied endorsement of GovLoop, notably on it’s Resources page (Figure A) and in its recent ‘Government by Collaboration’ newsletter (Figure B) that includes an article by GovLoop with the headline ‘GovLoop’s “Extraordinary Collection of Talent.”‘

I’ve written about this before (NASCAR.gov: Should corporate logos be on government sites?), which generated some great comments around the role of private sector logo and link placement on government Websites.

In the spirit of open government, I hope GSA and GovLoop can figure out a better way to promote each of their services and non-government resources in a more appropriate manner.

Figure A

Figure B

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

12 Responses

  1. Sandy King

    Well, Govloop has a history of flirting with the boundries of ethics.For the longest time they made feds think it was a government owned site. See they are still duping people.

    This is wrong. Thanks for saying something.

  2. @Sandy – Sorry if it was misconstrued in any way. From day one, we’ve ran on a .com and tried to be clear that this was not an official channel but something I did out of my own passion for government collaboration.

    I did the same when I founded and ran Young Government Leader (younggovernmentleaders.com) – which was never an official OPM channel but helped support the mission of bringing young leaders into government.

    There’s a long history of the eco-system of good government of all parties working together to improve government. For example:
    http://www.usa.gov/Federal_Employees/Collaboration.shtml

    I think re: the NASCAR issue- I see at least 8 logos on http://www.whitehouse.gov/ from LinkedIn to Vimeo. One would have never seen that a few years back but as long as it fits the business mission (for example – White House – engage with the public at a grand scale) I would argue it’s ok.

    All in all…I think the key is in the government eco-system (and gov 2.0 is a sub-set of that) how can we work together to improve government performance to the citizen. If we can even move that needle a little forward, I think we can all have a beer and be proud of ourselves…

    -Steve

  3. Jack

    Lets face it. Take a look at apps.gov GSA is fully endorsing SEVERAL private organizations and products. Twitter, facebook… GovLoop is just one of many. check out EX 12674 Section H:

    (h) Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential
    treatment to any private organization or individual.

    and section N

    (n) Employees shall endeavnor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards promulgated pursuant to this order.

    Clearly blaring Twitter and Facebook Logos accross gov pages atleast creates the appearance of endorsement.

    http://www.usoge.gov/laws_regs/exec_orders/eo12674.html

    Great Article. Nice to see someone in the Web 2.0/Social Media space taking a good hard look at this from the perspective of a citizen!

  4. Using a private company in order to in return provide a service to the people that is clearly within the scope of government isn’t a disputed purpose of any product, like Twitter. This is no different than the FBI using GM vehicles. Those vehicles having their logos displayed on them doesn’t violate anything and certainly isn’t unethical. The dispute should lie in the SCOPE. If it is essential for the federal government to use NASCAR to provide a service then so be it… but is it really? In the name of public relations, marketing, et al, I think we have seen a dangerous rise in alignments between our governments and companies providing services wholly unrelated to the scope of the Federal government and the functions awarded them by us.

    I prefer my potholes filled on the interstate over any NASCAR car getting a sticker.

    If GSA wants to use Twitter to communicate a message to me or to allow me to communicate with them, I don’t see that as an endorsement of Twitter any more than the Cisco phones are an endorsement to Cisco.

    If the services that GovLoop are essential in their scope, then in my book, it is all good. If not, there isn’t a place for it’s mention probably.

    I have my own opinions about what the Federal government and it’s agencies should be doing with their time and money and that is the point. The root of this discussion is going to lay in more politics than policy. Steve (not picking on you for any reason) may think it is a great thing for OPM to recruit youth as a program, but I may disagree. The disagreement isn’t a matter of whether we want youth in government, it is whether we think that government should be playing the role of a government recruiter.

    Perhaps not the best illustration, but I think my point is buried in there somewhere.

  5. Jack

    Sid,

    Great points. However in the case of cisco and other products they have been competed against government requirements and have won over other products in a competition. As the social media/Web 2.0 Sites are listed as “free” there is no competition and it is left to the “personal preference” of the government employees to select the services.

  6. Jack,

    I would agree with you. I know locally, we have statues that address the issue of having limited options. I suppose there is probably a significant amount of words somewhere that address the issue. So in the case of Twitter, I am not sure except to say I would imagine given its uniqueness, it is probably safe from bid laws in that respect. Just a hunch though.

  7. Jack

    Sid,

    Unfortunately it is not unique in functionality.. there are several providers which can provide this functionality, take the lesser known flutterstep.com as an example. Perhaps its uniqueness is elsewhere but unless it can be quantified and documented I believe the government is in error to have selected it arbitrarily or based on a criteria which could have been competed or evaluated against other providers. Twitter and other sites develop revenues by advertising to their user base. Why should the government favor one business over another as a platform to carry its message and possibly attract new users for that business?

  8. Jack,

    Part of the functionality of Twitter isn’t the platform, but the audience. I have never once used flutterstep.com and probably never will. More importantly, 10s of millions of people will probably never use it. In my mind it is no different than using SMS, eventually you have to pick a carrier. Am I missing something?

  9. Jack

    Sid,

    Just the evaluation and justification part. (There is also a security portion of it that is a whole new can of worms.) As long as there is due diligence on the Gov’s part in selection of a process that’s fine. Arbitrary selection is simply cronyism and can lead to the perception of corruption.

  10. Jed

    Before I say anything, Sid’s point about Twitter’s audience being part of the functionality of Twitter is supremely important. Government endorsement of a similar, but less trafficked, Twitteresque service due to “better functionality” would do far more to lead to the perception of corruption.

    We should be concerned with whether or not the government is doing what matters and what works online. Like it or not, GovLoop is (or appears to be) doing something valuable in a way that OPM or GSA have not been able to do on their own so far.

    Until the government provides a sufficiently competitive service, I think it’s fine that they link to GovLoop. It’s pragmatic, as far as one believes that GovLoop is actually worth linking to.

    What I’ve said so far obviously ignores that fact that this scenario, as described by Luke, clearly omits competitors to GovLoop, which feels unfair. I’m afraid we might be living in a brave new world in which technology and online organizations come about and evolve far too rapidly for existing government due-diligence and vetting processes to handle. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

  11. Jack

    Jed,

    Here is my concern with the tens of millions argument:

    “Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach and, except as authorized by statute or regulation, with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none.”

    https://www.acquisition.gov/far/html/Subpart%203_1.html

    Preferential treatment without due diligence is bad enough. Not having established contracts with vendors is worse… what happens if twitter is purchased by another company who is anti-government? Or what happens if twitter decides to start endorsing a political party? there are 300 Million + people in the US. I don’t see twitter as being worth all the resources the government is putting forth to try and reach less than 10% of the population? http://www.quantcast.com/twitter.com

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