Federal agencies can blog with impunity

Can you think of something short but sweet you’d like to say to the government? Bet you can.

And in a new document, government lawyers have said that federal agencies will be able to communicate with the public via Twitter, blogs and the like without falling foul of the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Under the 1995 Act, every time federal officials gather information from the public, they have to fill in a time-consuming form to prove that they’re, er, not wasting time and resources. Understandably, they’re not keen.

But the new plans take account of the new media, and list a number of ways in which the government can communicate with the public without requiring all that paperwork.

Federal wiki pages will now be permissible, along with webinars, blogs, discussion boards and forums. Staff will still have to watch their words, though, as asking ten people the same question will count as ‘information collection’ and trigger the provisions of the Act.

Other Open Government initiatives announced yesterday include the opening up of vast databases to the public. These include information about community health services from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Publishing these plans demonstrates once again this Administration’s commitment to be the most open and transparent in history,” said Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform.