Monday, April 22, 2013

Do Government Employees Have Freedom Of Speech?

It's a free country, everybody has freedom of speech, and it is statistically impossible that you will agree with every single thing your agency, another agency or the government does as a whole.
You want to make the government work better.
Every day people take to social media, face-to-face conversation and everything in between to say what they think.
And honest conversation promotes transparency and therefore credibility. To my mind it shows the public that we care.
However, there are times when speaking your mind may not be the best choice.
Here are five factors I use to guide and sometimes limit my public comments:
1--Focus on the general (rules and best practices) not the specific.
2--Remember that I am in a sense a representative of my Agency's brand (and the brand of government) whether I am speaking in a personal capacity or not. This is true of any employee of any organization.
3--Stick to designated roles and responsibilities - in my Agency only Public Affairs or designated experts on specific topics are authorized to explain or comment on what we do publicly, and to address controversy. 
4--Do not do anything that may interfere with mission performance. In some Agencies this is written into a code of conduct.
5--Confidentiality--don't talk about things that are nonpublic information.
From your experience, expertise, or just plain common sense what can you say, and not say, as a government employee writing in a public forum and signing your name? 
(Important note: Nothing here constitutes official advice, and I am not a lawyer. When in doubt, please seek the advice of a competent legal professional.)