Saturday, June 13, 2009

It’s Time for Chief Web Communications Officers

So many exciting things going on in the government web world…so many opportunities. The Chief CIO is out there with a great agenda. The White House Director of New Media is turning government as we knew it upside down. The advocates for transparency and citizen engagement are getting action. But I still don’t see any movement to address the huge void in the way the government manages the content of its websites. So – once again (because I’ve been yipping about this for years) – I say: it’s time for Chief Web Communications Officers!

There’s no need to restate the case for the critical role government websites play in delivering government services to citizens, offering a platform for transparency and engagement, and communicating government news. Who isn’t already convinced? So let’s get down to the point…these huge communications devices need real top-level leadership.


The Federal Web Managers Council is fighting mightily to get attention on critical problems, convene the various players to try to get consensus on major policy issues, and muster the advocates to bring focus to the plight of government websites. But they don’t sit at the Office of Management and Budget, where policy is made. They need someone who does. Most of them (as agency Web Managers) don’t even sit in the executive management meetings where agency management decisions that involve using the websites are made. The quality and potential of government websites cannot advance as it should until someone with substantial knowledge and experience with managing government websites is sitting at those tables where key policy and management decisions are made.

The Director of OMB should designate a Chief Web Communications Officer (CWCO) for the government and should direct each agency head to designate a Chief Web Communications Officer for the agency. The CWCOs should have the same stature in the agency as the CIOs and Public Affairs Directors/New Media Directors, with whom they must work. That would give the agency a powerful triumvirate for implementing the President’s directive for transparency and engagement and for ensuring that the public gets the high quality of service that their taxes pay for.

OK – some of you are still scratching your heads. What exactly does the CWCO do? Three major roles:


  1. Serve as editor-in-chief/publisher of the agency’s website(s). Make sure editorial guidelines and standards are in place and enforced to ensure the quality of website content…make sure that content really communicates. Work with the CIO and Public Affairs Director/New Media Director to take advantage of new technologies to improve the quality and delivery of content. Work with agency managers to produce and maintain quality content to carry out the agency mission. Ensure that content is created once and delivered many ways.
  2. Serve as director of citizen services. Assess and monitor citizens’ wants and needs and work with agency managers to address those needs. Establish and enforce customer service standards. Measure customer satisfaction and work with top management to improve customer service.
  3. Work with other CWCOs, CIOs, and Public Affairs/New Media Directors across government to create governmentwide strategies to improve web communications. Collaborate, consolidate, and coordinate web content and content delivery governmentwide. Work with the Office of Citizen Services at GSA to improve citizen service across government.

The Chief CWCO at OMB directs web content policy and strategy, with the Council of CWCOs. I can even tell you who’d be great in this job, By Golly (but I won’t…hmm…spell it out here because she’d probably clobber me!).

And what happens to the FWMC? Well, hopefully, many/most of those agency web managers will be elevated to CWCO status - the same way many IT Directors were elevated to CIO status 15 years ago. Many of those agency web managers have all the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for that executive status. They’re ready to sit at the table – they just need an invitation.

Citizens depend on government websites for government information, services, data, and interaction. Agencies depend on government websites to carry out their programs. Many agencies couldn’t function anymore without websites to help them do their work. The people who run government websites need (and deserve) status to improve performance and impact. They need someone at OMB whose agenda is their agenda. Yes indeed…it’s time for Chief Web Communications Officers.

Related Posts

Three Pieces Make a Whole Better Online Government
Can’t We Have One Federal Government – At Least Online?
Worried About Too Many People In the Sandbox? Governance to the Rescue!
It’s Time for Governance

1 comment:

sbourne said...

We have the same issues in state government, too. Most people think the choice is between having management of the website either belong to IT or PR. Although it has aspects of both, it's biggest component - as you point out! - is customer service. But even so, no one of those three groups can do the job right on their own. The web is now the most public face of any government agency, and its management cannot be the awkward stepchild of business units with competing priorities.