Advancing Federal Government Communications executive summary
Advancing Federal Government Communications
Federal Communicators Network, 2016
• The Federal Communicators Network, a grassroots, independent network of federal communicators
founded in 1995 by the White House, provides free training and networking nationwide.
• In 2015, FCN leadership and members observed various trends of concern and set out to take the
pulse of the state of communications in the Federal government.
• Research included a survey of federal communicators, face-to-face brainstorming sessions, primary
and secondary research, and identification of best practices in the private sector.
• Our findings indicate that communication management in government is more ad hoc than planned,
and that there is a need for clear and consistent government-wide quality standards.
• The paper outlines three key themes necessary for the improvement of federal communication,
including standards; institutionalization in the Executive Branch as a standalone professional
function; and partnerships for collaboration and the continued refinement of best practices. FCN
will work toward implementing these recommendations.
Recommendations & Next Steps
FCN permanent task
broadly and openly
I. Poor Outcomes
• Citizen trust: Trust is a key indicator of communication effectiveness, and while the public
generally trusts federal workers as individuals, trust in the institution as a whole has dropped
progressively over the years. It is now at the lowest level ever recorded.
• Citizen access: From a customer service point of view, a recent report (March 2016) published
by the government digital service group 18F showed that Americans view the government as a
kind of impenetrable “black box.”
• Internal communication deficit: “There is a statistically significant correlation between effective
workplace communication and employee job satisfaction,” according to Partnership for Public
Service analysis of the government-wide Employee Viewpoint Survey data. Nevertheless, few
agencies have dedicated internal communication programs, and there is no evidence of any that
are on par with the private sector. As a result, the Partnership analysis found that the
government trails the private sector by 15 percent for “managers sharing information about
what is going on in their organization,” and only half of employees feel their “managers promote
communication among different work units.”
II. Lack of Standards
• GAO audit standards highlight communication as critical to program success. Half of its recent
studies identified communication problems contributing to operational shortcomings (8 of 17
studies, May 1-20, 2016). And two of the nine factors GAO describes as necessary for successful
organizational transformation (Report GAO-03-669) are communication and engagement. Yet
agencies have no authoritative source for finding solutions to the problems GAO finds—no
repository of evidence-based practices and practitioners across government.
• A survey of federal communications professionals (169 responses, 2016) found: A strong
majority (72%) report little or no clarity about career paths for communication professionals.
Almost none (13%) feel that communication professionals’ roles and expectations are generally
consistent across government. And a minority report having useful tools (45%) and metrics
(32%) to assess and guide work.
III. “Ad Hoc” Communication Management
• Government-wide Executive Councils such as the CIO, CFO and IG Councils were created in
recent decades as strategies to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and interoperability. While the
federal government has no such mechanism for communication (FCN is an informal community),
peer nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom do.
• Communication is not considered a “mission-critical” occupation by the Office of Personnel
• A survey of federal communicator professionals (169 responses, 2016) found: Nearly all (82%)
feel developing a more rigorous communication program is a priority. The overwhelming
majority (75%) feel that inter-agency collaboration and practice-sharing for communication is a
priority, but only one-third currently have this ability. And almost none (11%) strongly agree the
communication function has input into important agency decisions.