Rogue Webmasters

Want the real scoop on agency cuts? Try these unofficial Web sites.

What does RIF really stand for?

According to Keith Cowing's NASA RIF Watch Web site, the answer is "Resistance Is Futile." On the site, Cowing cut and pasted NASA Administrator Dan Goldin's face onto the body of a "Borg," the race of villains from television's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" who attempt to destroy Earth and enslave its people.

Cowing, a former NASA employee who quit in 1993 because he didn't like the way the agency was being managed, launched the RIF Watch site in April to provide information for NASA employees whose jobs are at risk as the agency's budget shrinks and it is asked to carry out its mission with fewer employees. He's not alone in his effort to supplement--and circumvent--official agency information sources. Rogue webmasters have set up sites for IRS employees and Postal workers. And an online magazine has devoted a section to let federal employees of any agency sound off about what ticks them off.

Watching NASA

On the NASA Rif Watch site, Cowing posts documents that agency employees send him concerning NASA policy and personnel issues. They include information on buyout plans, news articles on NASA policy, papers on the direction of NASA's mission, and press releases from the agency. New information is posted daily. By contrast an official NASA RIF Page, sponsored by the Office of Space Science, has been updated only three times in the past four months.

Cowing estimates that about 10 percent of NASA employees look at his site on a regular basis. He said RIF Watch gets more than 1,000 visits each day, and that virtually all the visitors are NASA employees.

Donald Teague, president of the NASA Headquarters Professional Association, says the RIF Watch site provides invaluable information. "You have to turn it on each morning to see what's going on," he says.

A committee of headquarters employees nominated Cowing for an agency award for running the RIF Watch site. But NASA Associate Administrator for Headquarters Operations Michael Christensen, rejected the idea.

"The tone of the page is unacceptable," says Christensen. "None of us dispute his right to run the Web site. My own personal decision was that it would be inappropriate to honor him for it."

RIF Watch pokes fun at NASA Administrator Dan Goldin as an ineffective leader on personnel issues. The home page boasts that the site contains "All the News that Dan is Scared to Print."

Even though NASA won't officially honor the site, Cowing says he has been overwhelmed by the positive response he has received from employees at NASA. "I have an immense loyalty to the place, probably heightened by the response I've gotten," he says.

The IRS RIF Zone

Scott Morizot, an IRS programmer in Austin, Texas, decided that his agency's higher powers weren't giving employees enough information about potential RIFs. So he pulled together information from IRS sources and from the Office of Personnel Management into both a site on the IRS intranet and a World Wide Web page: The RIF Zone.

Headquarters' response to Morizot's efforts was "a panicked attempt to snuff the sites," he says. But Morizot wasn't violating IRS policy. So they asked him to remove icons of mini-bombs with burning fuse lines from the internal site and take some memos off the Internet site. Morizot complied.

Though he hasn't started keeping statistics for the Internet site, Morizot says the internal site gets roughly 200 hits each day--more than many of the official sites on the IRS network.

Disgruntled Postal Workers

Eric Pivnik started the Disgruntled Postal Worker Zone to amuse himself and his postal worker friends (Pivnik does not work for the Postal Service). He posts true stories of disgruntled postal workers to the site and is hoping to gather first-hand accounts from postal workers who have gone over the edge. Pivnik also sells "Disgruntled? Ask Me" buttons with the USPS eagle on them.

Pivnik said the reaction to the site from postal workers has been positive.

"It didn't hit the big time until a few months after it's creation, when I was contacted by the USPS's chief legal counsel, who informed me that blah blah blah copyright blah blah trademark infringement blah blah Marilyn Monroe yada yada yada," Pivnik recalls. "I informed him that blah blah First Amendment blah blah fair use statute acka-acka mumble mumble tuna-fish 400 pounds! I never heard from them again." Postal workers have also found their way to Disgruntled Magazine's Fed Up! section, which is is designed to allow any federal employee to send in stories about frustration in the public sector. Four of the 10 stories posted so far are from Postal Service employees.

The magazine is holding a contest for the disgruntled employee of the year. Nominations must explain why the person "best embodies or inspires disgruntled employees everywhere."

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