Editorial: Finding the middle path

Perhaps you noticed the juxtaposition of stories in last week’s issue of Federal Computer Week. Most of the issue was filled with the tales of the Rising Star Award winners and a broader look at younger government workers. And then the lead story in the news section was about the potential pitfalls of instant messaging software. The instant messaging article, of course, was spurred by the lurid stories of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), and that case raised questions about the best use of the technology.

And next to that story was an article about Interior Department employees spending thousands of hours each week visiting auction, sex and gambling Web sites, according to an investigation by the agency’s inspector general.

Those stories are somewhat related. They deal with how people use technology — personally and professionally. The missing element in most discussions of personal use policies is common sense. Rather than addressing the real problems, the government has a tendency to do “lowest common denominator” management by setting rules that prevent common-sense personal use of government equipment. The challenge is establishing rules that deal with the vast majority of workers who do their jobs properly.

Good managers understand and appreciate the difference between use and abuse. No one should be looking at porn or gambling at work. But do we care if a a well-performing employee takes some time to shop online? Is it worth potentially losing a good employee because of some bureaucratic rule that says, “Thou shalt not shop online at work”?

Even beyond those management issues, draconian rules reinforce a less creative culture. As jobs become more competitive, we want employees and managers who are cognizant of the real world.

We know the private sector devises innovative new ideas. Government employees need to be aware of those ideas because some may be useful in government projects. For example, an Interior employee could go shopping at Amazon.com using the company’s 1-Click function, which lets regular users make purchases with a single mouse click. That government employee may then think to incorporate a one-click function into a system that makes reservations at parks. Or the function could be handy for applying for a government grant.

That example is simple. But the next good idea could be lurking in an obvious place. Given the government’s reputation as a stodgy work environment, agencies should create personal-use policies that encourage good, productive workers to come up with creative ideas for doing work better.

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About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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