Social media looms in regulations development

New tools are changing rulemaking processes

Federal agencies anticipate a growing reliance on interactive social media technologies in 2011 to get ideas from the public and from inside their agencies on achieving their core missions more effectively, according to government social media leaders who spoke at a breakfast forum today.

Agencies began using Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other Web 2.0 applications primarily to push their messages out to the public rather than for interaction. Now the social media tools are being applied to get public feedback on agency missions, address niche audiences and improve dialog among employees said speakers at the AFCEA-Bethesda chapter forum.

“Now, we are not just increasing our reach, but also striving for a new level of engagement,” said Sanjay Koyani, director of Web communications for the Food and Drug Administration.

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The FDA recently started using Web 2.0 technologies to involve niche audiences in improving and publicizing regulations, he said. For example, for recent tobacco sales regulations for retailers, the FDA sponsored a day-long online dialogue with the retailers to better identify their needs, and it maintains an ongoing ideation application online to keep the conversation going, he said.

As part of that effort, the FDA identified a need in a niche audience — the “mom and pop” stores that sell tobacco showed a preference for direct mail communications about the new guidelines, Koyani added.

At the Agriculture Department, a new program involves stakeholders online very early in the regulatory process, before a draft rule is published,  for an upcoming public lands regulation for the Forest Service, said Amanda Eamich, director of Web communications for the department.

To support that involvement, the USDA has been running a “planning blog” online and asking the public for input on key issues, she said. More than 300 public comments have been received.

As a result of the early public feedback on the project, when the draft rule comes out, “we hope it will be closer to the needs and desires of the public,” Eamich said.

The Defense Department has been using many Web 2.0 tools to communicate with the public and is now starting to focus on internal use of the tools to improve communications and interaction within the department, said Jack Holt, senior strategist for emerging media at DOD.

“We are using social media for internal communications transparency,” Holt said. “Internal communications is a priority for 2011.”

The Energy Department is preparing internal Web 2.0 platforms for dialog and communications in the “ Renewal” project, which will debut in spring 2011, said Cammie Croft, director of new media and citizen engagement at the department.

“In addition to improving our transparency and usability on the front end, we are improving our backbone infrastructure to bring it into the Twenty-first century,” Croft said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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