GovLoop Social Networking Site Connects Public Employees In the Loop Screen shot of GovLoop.com

. Sometimes that occurs within a single division, not to mention connecting across other departments or a state or local agency. So I just started thinking the best way to build these solutions is someone on the outside getting up and doing it. If you wait for it to get officially sanctioned, it's the government, so it takes awhile.

Q: It seems like a great hub to come to if you're interested in what's happening on the ground in government or the public sector. But have you run into any cases of bureaucracy holding back peoples' voices?

A: I think people are self-regulating. You can see it in the topics people are talking about, a lot of softer issues. People aren't necessarily going in and saying, "I work on Project X and we are behind schedule and our contractor is screwing us." I think that's where it gets into, on a public forum, can you really talk about your contractor? Can you talk about your project schedule being off base? I think that's inherent - people know that - so the discussions are around the different topics.

Q: Are you happy with the direction the site is going now?

A: I'm pretty happy with the way it is now. There's a kind of balance. We're talking about Web 2.0 and the whole principle of Web 2.0 is being open, collaborative and creating. Those are things the government, historically, has not been good at. Government is risk averse, so why would they put all their stuff out in the open? They're not used to rapidly innovating. So it's a fine balance of government trying to learn to deal with Web 2.0.

Q: Sometimes people in government wait for someone else to take first action. With GovLoop, can they now see that this stuff is going on and there aren't negative consequences? Do you think the site is facilitating more openness and removing some barriers?

A: I think it's a proof of concept. I now have examples of times where it has helped people in their jobs. And I think that's what people need. For example, the other day there was a National Institutes of Health human resources specialist. He was working on a cross-comparison analysis of what other HR firms were doing across the federal space, and he was having a really hard time getting anyone from Homeland Security to give him a call back. So he posted on GovLoop and within an hour someone had fired a message to him, they talked and he got the information he needed. Where else are you going to do that?

The [Environmental Protection Agency] is doing a YouTube contest about [the potentially deadly gas] radon. It's one of those things where everyone submits a video and people vote. The winner gets a prize and their commercial is shown across the nation.

Q: Many in government IT worry about finding young workers to fill the retirement gap. GovLoop seems like it would be ideal for, say, a college student who might be interested in government work to find out what it's like.

A: I just posted a blog called The Unofficial Guide to Getting a Government Job. There are two main things with generational issues: the first is getting the younger generation interested in government; the second, more practical challenge is, I get e-mails once every two weeks from random people who want to work for the government, who've been applying online and can't get in. Their resumés are always impressive. There's never an issue about salary. The bureaucracy is just too much.  

So I see GovLoop as another vehicle to give them informal advice about what's really going on. On GovLoop, people are also posting job opportunities.

Q: At a more basic level, younger people perceive government to be out of touch. But if you come to GovLoop, will you see all these people in government who are just like you and maybe it signals government isn't as out of touch as you thought?

A: It's not a black hole. It's not a bunch of faceless people. I know what you look like, you know what I look like. We're normal people. I went to college like everyone else, I went to grad school. I go to the same bars and restaurants. I play the same fantasy football.  

Some people think government is all a bunch of dumb people who went to bad schools. But it ranges - people of all educational backgrounds are doing interesting things.

Q: It looks like you modeled the site on some of the best features of sites like Facebook and Digg. Or did you design your own model?

A: The first piece I thought was very important - that doesn't really exist for government - is good, social profiles that you can connect to see what others are doing. With Young Government Leaders, we had 2,000 members but you didn't know what everyone was doing, what they looked like. It was hard to contact them directly.

I like the idea of having blogs because there is a lot of good information out there in magazines like yours, but there's no good, informal guidance. So I set up the blog feature so anyone can write a blog post. We have a senior fed who gives his wisdom. Another one out in Washington works for the Forest Service, and she has a lot of interesting ideas and thoughts.

Forums have been around awhile, but I still think they're valuable for people to pose questions and get quick responses.

The final piece I really like is the events feature. There's a bunch of Web sites that try to list all events. But for me it's always been hard to narrow down the good events. If there are 1,000, what are the 20 I really need to know about? I like the idea of the people who are adding the events are interested - they're the innovators and they're putting up really good events.

Q: It sounds like this might be evolving into a sort of one-stop shop to learn what it's like to be in government.

A: The hub description is exactly what my thought was. I tried to get GovHub, but that was already taken. It's a place to talk government. Whether you're federal, state, local; whether you're a grad student, professor, contractor, let's all get in and share information with each other.

 

Chad Vander Veen  |  Associate Editor