6 government blogs worth visiting as often as you can

The best of government blogs

It wasn’t that long ago that the word “blog” wasn't really a word. And if you heard it, you might think it was the name of an alien in a science fiction movie or maybe a euphemism for something rude. Now it’s an everyday part of the Internet world. A blog, short for “Web log,” is an online diary featuring usually short entries that, at their best, are insightful, interesting and informative.

Federal agencies began experimenting with blogs just a few years ago, with NASA CIO Linda Cureton’s blog being perhaps the first to become well known. NASA still leads the way for making good use of the format, but other agencies have joined in.

Some government blogs have languished, and others offer little value to readers. But some excel. We took stock of the state of the federal blogosphere to find the best of them. This is only a sampling, but here are a few you should be reading.

NASA’s family of blogs
blogs.nasa.gov/cm/newui/blog/mainblogs.jsp
Authors: Multiple
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: A
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: A
Overall grade: A

It might be a little unfair to rate NASA’s collection of 53 blogs as one. But they are all accessible through a single Web portal, and as a group, they really shine. The space agency turns out to be the cyberspace agency as well, at least in regard to its eager adoption of the Web as an outreach tool.

Cureton’s blog is still going strong, as are blogs by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Chief Technology Officer for IT Chris Kemp, Goddard Space Flight Center CIO Adrian Gardner and astronaut Ron Garan. Other blogs cover NASA programs, space science and technologies, and basic astronomy. Some are written for kids and teachers, others for the general public.

All the blogs appear to be open for reader comments. Although the number of comments varies, some popular posts show dozens of them. That level of reader engagement suggests that the blogs have audiences that read thoughtfully and are comfortable responding.

The blogs also feature photos and graphics that add color and information, and most are updated several times a week. The entries are conversationally written, even when discussing science and technology, and are the right length to be substantive without going past the point of reader interest.

Here’s an example from an explanation of the Cassini spacecraft’s flyby of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, written by Cassini scientist Bonnie Buratti.

"So far, we have detected water vapor, sodium and organic chemicals such as carbon dioxide in the plumes that spew out from the tiger stripes, but we need more detail.… We really want to understand what's driving the plumes, especially whether there is liquid water underneath the surface. If we can put the pieces together — a liquid ocean under the surface, heat driving the geysers and the organic molecules that are the building blocks of life — Enceladus might turn out to have the conditions that led to the origin of life on an earlier version of Earth.

So if this is all so interesting, why did we wait so long to travel into the plumes? One reason is the plunge is tricky. We wanted to make sure we could do it. We worried that plume particles might damage the spacecraft. We did extensive studies to determine that it was safe at these distances. We also wanted to have the right trajectory so we didn't use an excessive amount of rocket fuel. We are going very fast through this sparse plume; so to play it safe, we're using Cassini's thrusters to keep it stable through this flyby."


Greenversations
blog.epa.gov/blog
Authors: Multiple
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: B
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: A
Overall grade: A

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Greenversations” blog covers a range of topics, including green energy, sustainability and related issues. The writing is varied, with many EPA employees contributing.

The first entry that greeted us when we visited in early February was by Kathy Sykes, and it had a dramatic opening:

"As I was walking to this sustainable communities meeting in Atlanta, I was struck hard from behind. In car vernacular, rear-ended. I then realized I was on the hood of a car and then on the pavement. Fortunately, I suffered no serious injuries. The irony: I was there for a meeting on walkable communities."

Greenversations suffers a bit visually from its Spartan layout and relative lack of photos. But the posts draw comments, indicating that readers want to engage with the writers, and the overall feel is one of lively conversation.

Army Live
armylive.dodlive.mil
Authors: Multiple
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: A
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: A
Overall grade: A

“Army Live” spans a range of topics of interest to the Army’s personnel, families and others who want to keep up with the doings of the service. The layout is as crisp as a freshly starched officer’s collar, and the writing from a variety of authors is engaging.

The blog benefits from easy-to-use Facebook and Twitter buttons for each entry and a box that tracks the number of comments and reactions, largely through the tweets people have made regarding specific blog entries.

The site also features a lengthy blogroll linking to other sites of interest and photos available on Flickr.com.

All in all, “Army Live” is well-rounded and fully featured, demonstrating that the service is embracing social media tools and using them effectively.

TSA Blog
blog.tsa.gov
Author: Blogger Bob
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: B
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: A
Overall grade: A

The Transportation Security Administration’s blog has a single purpose, according to its “About This Blog” statement, and that is “to facilitate an ongoing dialogue on innovations in security, technology and the checkpoint screening process.”

The pseudonymous Blogger Bob is the consummate TSA defender, with entries seeking to explain, justify and update the public on TSA screening processes and technologies. The entries usually generate large numbers of comments, many of them hostile. To TSA’s credit, although it moderates the comments and has the right to refuse to publish certain ones, there’s no shortage of disagreement and anger in the comments that do get through.

TSA has an unpopular but necessary mission, which puts it in a tough position. But it’s making good use of the Web to keep the communication channels open.

Fast Lane
fastlane.dot.gov
Author: Ray LaHood
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: B
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: A
Overall grade: A

“Fast Lane” is all about the Transportation Department, with entries on space travel, high-speed rail, commercial air travel, highways and pretty much anything else you can think of connected to transportation.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the author of the blog, draws from his personal experiences, such as what he learned at the 14th annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference:

"Our use of space requires transporting satellites, people and supplies to low Earth orbit. For nearly three decades, that task has been largely handled by the space shuttle. Now, with only a few shuttle missions left, private companies are stepping up to meet the need. And they will continue to do so with increasing frequency. In fact, we've already approved more than 200 launches and eight spaceports."

The blog is copiously illustrated with photos and video stills, and a right-hand navigation column links to Twitter and Facebook.

Reboot
reboot.fcc.gov
Authors: Multiple
Ability to inform: A
Writing: A
Aesthetics: B
Frequency of updates: A
Reader interaction: B
Overall grade: B

“Reboot” is the Federal Communications Commission’s public blog. It offers timely information on a bunch of communications technology topics. The blog is cleanly laid out and easy to navigate, with a handy list of categories down the right-hand side that allows easy access to all the entries on a topic.

However, reader involvement seems a little lackluster. Many entries receive only a few comments — in the single digits — or none at all. In a spot-check, the greatest number of comments we found — 14 — were in response to a post titled “America’s 2020 Broadband Vision” by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The blog also lacks visual interest. Photos illustrate entries here and there but not consistently. Posts are accompanied by a thumbnail-size photo of the author, but those serve more for writer recognition than aesthetic enhancement.

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Reader comments

Wed, Oct 16, 2013 donnie fresno

WE THE PEOPLE.....stand up and have an in house vote in or out any party veto one bye one party memeber of the power for there party for there partys power and not WE THE PEOPLE.....

Mon, Oct 7, 2013 Dan A Wash.

What would happen if I ran either my business or my personal economy on credit? Soon My interest due would cripple my ability to pay interest and make payments on principle and bankruptcy would be my only alternative! Why can't our govt see that is exactly what they are doing! If they would only freeze expenses on programs, start NO new programs and expenditures and live within budgets existing budgets instead of putting us in greater debt? What the govt does is print more money or squeeze the growing working class, then claim their is no INFLATION!! Are our reps in govt so stupid that they can't see what they are creating ? There is so much WASTE in govt spending and pork belly programs, it too fuels our increases our necessity to increase debt...trillions! Thee answers is obvious to every one except our elected leaders! Let's start voting for fiscal responsibility..........Dan

Fri, Apr 6, 2012

If the GSA can not do the job..Put the empty buildings up for people who lost their homes..taxpayers are paying for them, use them for us...

Wed, Jun 15, 2011 T3 Direct Marketing http://www.t3directusa.com

I'm wondering if these blogs are in jeopardy because of the recession. Maybe the government can't afford to hire any more bloggers with the budget crisis. There will always be a high level of interest for these things because people are fascinated with the inner workings of the government.

Wed, Mar 9, 2011 Bob Burns Washington DC

Hi FCW! Great read... Thanks for the mention! I just wanted to poke my head in and say my real name is Bob. While I don't openly advertise my last name on the blog, I don't hide it elsewhere. http://bit.ly/ewQrud I don't use a pseudonym. I've gone by Bob my entire life. I blog, and my name is Bob. It's only logical that people call me Blogger Bob. It stuck... Thanks, Bob Burns

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