Friday, January 13, 2006

Why Don’t Government Web Managers Have Their Own Job Series?

Government websites have been around nearly 11 years now. But there still is no OPM-defined job description or job series for web managers. Why is that? Can you imagine any other job that could exist across government for 11 years without a defined job description and series? How can you create good training programs and do succession planning with no standard job description?

I’m guessing there are at least three reasons for this phenomenon.

  • First, government websites have been done at the grass roots level. In many cases, websites sprung up from enterprising staffers rather than from management mandate. Managers weren’t really focused on or interested in who was running the sites as long as what they wanted got “put up.”
  • Second, it took a few years to shake out the knowledges, skills, and abilities needed of a good web manager. At first, there was the struggle between the techies who started the sites and the writers who realized that someone had to get in there and edit that junk so the agency wouldn’t be embarrassed. That actually got sorted out fairly quickly, relatively speaking. Within about 3 years, web managers were moving into public affairs or communications or policy shops, away from the CIOs. But we still didn’t have a standard job description.
  • Third, we who were web managers were leery about having someone from OPM or the CIO Council decide what we do, when we were pretty sure they didn’t know what we do. The Web Content Managers Forum drafted a prototype Web Manager position description (PD) nearly 5 years ago. It was a pretty good one, at that, rooted in writing, editing, analysis, and communications. But when we talked with OPM about it, they wanted to put it into a tech series. We knew that would be the kiss of doom, so we backed off.

I think the time has come to bite the bullet, get the issues out on the table, and pin down this job. Government web management can’t move into adulthood until “web managers” are recognized as the unique jobs they are. This is particularly important now, as some agencies are looking at web management as a target for potential A-76 studies. It's time to separate the commerical technical duties from those that are inherently governmental. To be sure, there are risks involved in pushing this issue. Some agencies will have to change their PDs and grades. Overall governance issues will come to the front, and there may be ongoing struggles between Public Affairs, CIOs, and others over control of the agencies websites and associated web management functions. But it’s time. Skilled Web Managers are – and will be – critical to achieving the mission of agencies, as more and more work is done through the web. They need to have the right skills, the right grades, and the right legitimacy in the management structure.

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