State Department Shuts Down Online Employee Idea Forum

At the end of August, State Department employees will lose access to the in-house employee online forum called Sounding Board, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s staff announced in a departmentwide email on Aug. 17.

Employees were told to archive any previous discussion items of interest because the past content will not be archived, according to an item by the ex-employee who writes under the name Diplopundit.

Created under Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2009, the forum for exchanging information and collaborating on ideas attracted more than 120,000 users and generated 4,000 ideas, the blogger reported. Among the 130 ideas implemented: installing pedestrian walk signals outside the Harry S. Truman building, enhancing female bathrooms in that structure and creation of ePerformance guides.

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“If the State Department goes through with this, it could only re-enforce employees’ perception that its new leadership does not walk the talk,” Diplopundit wrote. “You cannot say that the ‘secretary values and wants employee feedback’ and expect people to believe that if at the same time, you’re demolishing the system that affords employees the ability to provide feedback.”

A State Department official told Government Executive, “The Sounding Board is in need of a technology upgrade. As part of the redesign process a new portal will be built. In the meantime, the redesign portal and other existing engagement tools (Ask knowledgebases); sharing concerns (DGDirect@state.gov); and collaborating with others (Communities@State and Corridor) will serve as platforms for employee engagement and idea generation.”

Diplopundit wondered why State did not inform employees what was wrong with the existing Sounding Board or provide a timeframe for the coming substitute. “So after Aug. 31, stuff will just go to some kind of ‘digital suggestion box’ in the portal and no one can see (presumably with the exception of those designated to watch the suggestion box) what topics are under discussion or what subjects are important to employees,” the blogger wrote.

The critic also raised the question of whether the archives of the Sounding Board must be preserved as a government record for the National Archives and Records Administration.

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