DHS: Blogs give department a new voice

The Homeland Security Department has launched its blogs partially because the agency wanted a dialog with the public.

According to DHS Web Communications Director Gwynne Kostin, the agency’s Leadership Journal was born partly from the intense debate surrounding the now-defeated Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. DHS officials found they also wanted to put out their own views on the immigration issue.

“People in the blogosphere were saying things that were very negative about the immigration bill, but we didn’t have an opportunity to say, ‘Well here’s another view,’ ” Kostin said in a presentation today at the Advanced Learning Institute’s Social Media for Government conference in Alexandria, Va.

This dialog is part of the reason why blogs are catching on at agencies. DHS’ is one of about 30 ongoing blogs maintained by government agencies.

The Leadership Journal is unusual because DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff contributes to it, making it one of two blogs cabinet officers contribute to. The other is run by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who launched his after HHS experimented with a temporary open-discussion blog about pandemic flu in May 2007.

Kostin said the blog has already paid off. An April 4 posting by Chertoff emphasized the importance of restricting hand-carried liquids onto commercial aircraft, referring to an ongoing trial of eight Britons who planned to blow up seven trans-Atlantic flights by using liquid explosives.

DHS also allows people to comment anonymously on entries. Although the agency combs comments for offensive material, moderators allow sometimes-heated discussions to take place on the blog. Kostin said these discussions are a good way to engage the public on current issues, which is the blog’s primary function.

“I really think social media and these tools are really a way to bring people closer to the government,” she said.

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