Federal CIOs Embrace Social Media

Despite security risks, federal agencies increasingly are using Facebook, Twitter and the like to engage with the public, according to TechAmerica.
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The use of social media to connect with the public has become a mainstay over the last several years among federal agencies, despite security risks involved in giving employees access to the technology, according to TechAmerica's annual survey of federal CIOs, which was conducted by Grant Thornton.

While no CIOs surveyed in late 2009 reported non-specific uses for social media within their agencies, 36% o the 46 federal CIOs surveyed recently for the 2011 report said they were using social media for a variety of tasks within their organizations.

Moreover, in late 2009, 45% of CIOs provided access to social media or encouraged employees to use sites like Facebook and Twitter, versus 50% in 2011.

While that does not show a significant increase, one CIO surveyed said attitudes clearly have changed in less than a two-year period. "Up until late 2009, my department routinely blocked social media unless there was a business need," the CIO said, according to the report. "But then we flipped and allowed access to everyone."

In the report, CIOs provided specifics about some emerging social-media uses at their agencies. The General Services Administration, for example, is in the early stages of considering how to implement social media to simplify access to government services.

Agencies also increasingly are creating their own internal social-media activities internally with collaboration sites, instant messaging, blogs and online chat capabilities, according to the survey.

The personal use of social media by government employees--particularly those at the White House--this week came under fire at a House committee meeting. Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, grilled administration officials about the integrity of presidential records when it comes to the use of social media and e-mail on smartphones federal staffers carry with them at work.

TechAmerica's survey found that while CIOs have security concerns about the use of social media, it's a necessary technology to engage with the public. One said that the government must focus on information channels that Web-savvy citizens are comfortable with, such as Facebook or Google.

That doesn't mean they are ignoring policy to govern its use, however. CIOs reported that developing and collecting feedback on policy for social media within agencies is another work in progress.