GAO: Agencies need social media guidance

Social media is being rapidly implemented across government, with 22 of 24 major federal agencies maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report presented as part of a July 22 testimony at a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing.

After analyzing federal agencies' use of Web 2.0 technology, GAO identified two major challenges agencies are facing. Agencies are unsure how the Privacy Act of 1974, which provides certain protections to personally identifiable information, applies to information exchanged within social media, said the report. What's more, agencies face challenges with regard to data collection of personal information by the agency and third-party providers of services.

A second challenge has to do with records management and freedom of information. It is unclear whether or not information produced by Web 2.0 technologies constitutes federal records and if this information must be captured at regular intervals, said the report.

"Record content produced or published by agencies on the Web must continue to be managed in compliance with NARA's records management guidance," wrote David S. Ferriero, archivist with the United States National Archives and Records Administration, in his prepared testimony before the House panel. "The fact that agencies have increased their involvement with Web 2.0 platforms does nothing to change that fundamental principle."

GAO also cited challenges in appropriately responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests because of the complexities around ownership of Web 2.0-generated content.

Ferriero said a bulletin on Web 2.0 and social media platforms and a related study on the subject will be completed and made available by the end of fiscal 2010. Both will provide guidance on records management procedures.

Agencies are in the process, according to GAO, of identifying areas where guidance is needed, around social media use, and have begun developing processes and procedures for addressing the challenges.

The General Services Administration will also be providing guidance in the near future. Dave McClure, associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at GSA said a beta version of a Citizen Engagement Platform is scheduled for late July 2010.

The platform "will provide a variety of blog, wiki, forum and other engagement tools to make it easy for government to engage with citizens, and easy for citizens to engage with government," said McClure in his written testimony. "The platform addresses agencies' need for easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy, secure and policy-compliant tools."

For more:
- see the report, "Challenges In Federal Agencies' Use of Web 2.0 Technologies" (GAO-10-872T)
- see the testimony page, "Government 2.0, Part I: Federal Agency Use of Web 2.0 Technologies"

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