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To Restore Trust In Government, Empower Federal Communicators

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An October 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy found that most Americans (62 percent) had a positive view of federal workers, and a majority had a positive view of the federal agencies they were asked about. But few (19 percent) trusted the government itself “to do what is right just about always or most of the time.”

Over the years I have received many email chains (Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:) portraying the government as corrupt or inefficient while hearing verbal anecdotes of federal employees who went the extra mile to help out.

Clearly, many federal employees are dedicated. The 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, shows that more than 90 percent of respondents “view their work as important, are willing to commit extra effort when necessary to get their jobs done, [and] consistently seek out ways to do better.”

Feds are also committed to integrity; they don't give you spin. Only 43 percent of respondents to the survey agreed that “senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce,” and 55 percent agreed that “my organization's senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.” 

The father of classical public relations, Edward Bernays—who propagandized for the U.S. government in favor of entering World War I—once famously wrote that “propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.” But today, ambiguity around the nature and purpose of government messaging has in my view created the current environment of distrust. 

A better course of action would be to charge Federal employees with disseminating government information in such a way that fact is clearly distinguished from message. This is the model followed by the UK, and we should adopt it here.

Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of her employer or any other organization or entity. 

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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