Online forum aims to give civil servants a voice

Organizers hope to use the Internet to examine the best and worst government practices.

Government employees have a new place to sound off and journalists have another source for information. A Washington-based nonprofit launched an online forum this week for federal workers to voice their thoughts on the best and worst of government's deeds.

Understanding Government, a foundation dedicated to improving the performance of the executive branch by helping journalists cover it, launched a free and anonymous online forum to cultivate discussion.

"It's journalists and civil servants talking together, sharing ideas, fattening the Rolodex, creating a product that will shed a whole new light on how our government works," said Carol Beach, executive director of Understanding Government.

The forum works like a typical Web log. Participants can respond to entries or post their own thoughts on government dealings, and Understanding Government administrators will include some of those comments on the home page.

Participants can use their real name, a username or be anonymous when posting to the site. They can provide Understanding Government with personal information by registering, or omit those details. Although the site asks users to log in with a username and password when commenting, participants can leave those entry fields blank and comments will still be published.

So far, entries have dealt with overpaid lobbyists, political appointments, retirement contributions and Marine Corps scheduling. No electronic Deep Throats yet, but organizers hope to uncover a few.

Matt Miller, Understanding Government board member and Tribune Media Services syndicated columnist, came up with the idea for the forum so "civil servants could anonymously discuss what's working and isn't in their agencies, or react to what the leadership is doing."

Beach added: "If journalists and scholars do a better job of writing about what really goes on in our federal agencies, Americans will have a better understanding of what their government does, how it affects their lives and how they might want it changed. And a government whose activities are carried out in the full light of day is undoubtedly going to be a better government."

Rules of engagement for government bloggers are fairly straightforward. Understanding Government asks participants to "avoid vulgar and profane language." Administrators say the site won't be censored per se, but will be closely monitored. They also ask contributors not to post entire articles and instead to quote and cite published works. Legally, administrators said, participants are responsible for their own postings.

Understanding Government receives funding from a number of private charitable foundations as well as direct mail solicitations. It was founded by retired Washington Monthly editor Charles Peters.