Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Contracting Out Web Manager Duties

In 2004-2005, some federal agencies were looking at web management as a possible commercial activity that could/should be contracted out or at least reviewed under the A-76 program.

It looks as though the kinds of functions that A-76 coordinators really are looking for are the tech functions: coding, posting, design (the actual computer programming involved in design - not the requirements part), and development. Certainly, it is true that those kinds of things can - and are - being done by the private sector pretty successfully.What they're missing is that "content managers" don't necessarily perform those functions.

When I worked at HUD, for example, all tech support for the Departmental Web Team and the Regional Web Managers was contracted out. It varied in our Headquarters program offices. Some have contractor support. Some have support from federal employees who do the coding and posting. Some of the Headquarters program office web managers do both content management and the technical work.I think that some of these folks who want to put web management on the A-76 list miss the point that content managers perform editorial (decision-making) duties that really shouldn't be contracted out.

When I was at HUD, the web managers really were the "editors in chief" of HUD's websites - we actually decided what's going on the website...what those words are and how they're organized. Though content can come from anywhere in the organization and it must go through appropriate approvals, the actual words that appear on the page are subject to our editing. That's part of our jobs. We select and train web managers for those skills. We make decisions about what can and can't go on the website. There have been times when we've decided not to post something because we felt it wasn't appropriate or because we didn't think it was something our audiences wanted. Further, how we write/edit content has a big impact on how readers understand HUD's policies and programs. In effect, we "interpret policy." It's been awhile since I went through A-76 training, but if memory serves me correctly, only federal employees can interpret policy. I don't think this is a stretch - I think it's a fact that the person(s) who decides the words that go on the page has a huge impact on how the audience perceives the facts.

I don't think a newspaper would consider contracting out its editor-in-chief duties. So if government web content managers can build the case that they are "editors-in-chief" of their websites - decision makers and policy interpreters - then it would be difficult to contract out those duties. Food for thought.

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