Two million visits to Facebook
State policymakers frequently encounter indicators which point to inefficiencies in state government. Many times these are subtle and nuanced pointers to which lawmakers must spend time to analyze and understand. On other occasions, the indicators aren’t the least bit subtle. They are glaring signs which expose inefficiency at first glance and require the conscientious policymaker to take immediate action and perform his duty to the taxpayer.
Our 2013 legislative study which exposed the number of non-work related websites visited by state employees was one of those indicators. Of particular interest were the more than 2 million times over a three month period during which state employees had used state networks to access content from Facebook. The eye-popping number joined other studies and reports and anecdotal evidence in suggesting what we already knew: over the years, Oklahoma state government has added hundreds of superfluous full-time state employee positions and in too many agencies state government employees face a challenge of finding work to do.
This shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of state employees, rather it is an indictment of the system by which agency-level government officials have sought to maintain their budgets and power by spending as much as possible in an effort to leverage appropriations and the lawmakers who have played along with this game.
I believe many state employees would gladly take on additional responsibilities if given the opportunity. This was anecdotally demonstrated when a state employee, who worked for an agency which we successfully consolidated, explained to the officials overseeing the consolidation, “I know I don’t have enough work to do, but I am willing to work if given the opportunity.” The spirit of hard work is an intrinsic Oklahoma value and you can only imagine the frustration of the state employee who is trapped in an environment where he isn’t allowed to realize his full potential.
Likewise, it was important for the fallout from our 2013 study to not discourage the use of social media by state agencies. I have been a leading advocate and sponsored legislation enabling the use of social media to communicate with the public. Social media allows the government to communicate with the public in a way not previously possible and offers a transparency potential which is yet to be fully realized.
However, all of this said, there were some who attempted to defend the indefensible. As glaring as the report was, it was shocking to see the defenders of the status-quo attempt to explain away the findings by pointing to issues such as the agencies’ legitimate use of social media to defend the massive amount of visits to Facebook. This is a phenomena in government were those who believe government can do no wrong will defend an abuse by pointing to a small subsection of legitimacy and attempt to extrapolate that legitimacy to the indefensible whole.
Those arguments were rendered mute a few weeks ago when we again revisited this issue with a follow-up hearing which I co-hosted with State Representative David Brumbaugh. We asked for an updated report regarding social media use. State officials told us that following the 2013 study, and the resulting media coverage of the study, usage of social media on state networks plummeted. Specifically, usage of Facebook resources appear to have dropped from over 2 million instances in a three month period of time to less than 100,000 instances per month. State officials credit the 2013 media coverage for causing this change.
In all likelihood, some of the on-the-job social media use by state employees has migrated away from state networks and to personal cellular networks of the employees. But, that fact notwithstanding, this example demonstrates the power of attentive lawmakers and the media which is willing to report on the matters.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.