Federal agencies embrace social media

GSA Signs Deals for Agencies to Use Social Networking Sites

Agencies can now engage with citizens through popular media technologies such as video-sharing service YouTube, using pre-negotiated service agreements that comply with federal terms and conditions.

After nine months of negotiations, the General Services Administration signed agreements with four video-sharing and social networking sites: Flickr, Vimeo, blip.tv and YouTube. GSA also is negotiating with the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

“We found when we reviewed standard service agreements that they were not a good enough fit for the [requirements] of the federal government,” said Michael Ettner, GSA general counsel.

For example, most terms of service agreements contain indemnification clauses that require a party to agree to be financially responsible for specified damages, claims or losses. Under the Antideficiency Act, the government cannot make payments or commit to payments at some future time for goods or services if not appropriated by law, and that includes possible payments for damages or claims. Most service agreements also hold users subject to state laws, but federal agencies are required to follow federal regulations, not state laws.

The agreements are memorandums of understanding, “efforts to put down on paper the expectations of the parties,” Ettner said, and cover free services only and can’t be used to negotiate premium services that require a fee.

GSA did not make an agreement with the online messaging service Twitter because the agency determined the provider’s standard terms and conditions aligned with federal requirements.

At least 17 agencies have signed, or are in the process of signing, agreements with one or more of the providers using the template provided by GSA. Agencies with existing agreements with any of the providers can be grandfathered in to the terms and conditions negotiated by GSA. The agency recommends federal employees check with their agencies’ Web managers and attorneys to determine the steps they need to follow to enter into an agreement.

Most agencies will appoint directors of new media to determine how they can use social networking tools to meet mission goals and comply with President Obama’s open government directive, said Sheila Campbell, team leader of Web best practices for the government portal USA.gov and co-chair of the Federal Web Managers Council.

See original story by By Jill R. Aitoro on 03/25/2009 on nextgov