A walk on Twitter’s wild side

Al Kamen
Columnist April 10, 2013

Panicky Capitol Hill staffers are scrambling to make their Twitter accounts private after the tracking site LegiStorm last week debuted a feature compiling the public tweets of lawmakers and their aides.

The airing of these sometimes embarrassing messages has led to red faces, irritated bosses and a purging of aides’ racier tweets.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Two years ago, then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) showed how easy it is for a private naughty message to inadvertently get sent as a public tweet. This newest episode offers another “teaching moment” about the perils of mixing politics and social media.

Most of the Twitter accounts were already public, and the LegiStorm tool, StormFeed, linked the accounts (many held by 20-somethings) to their users’ Hill employers.

“I really feel like this was a public service,” said LegiStorm President Jock Friedly. “Right now it’s a pain, because people on the Hill are having to deal with temporary fallout, readjusting and having conversations about what’s appropriate. But it’s a good reminder that what you tweet is public.”

And many staffers’ concerns were warranted. A search of LegiStorm’s collection of tweets — some from accounts recently made private and others from those who hadn’t yet closed off access — reveal staffers posting all manner of office-inappropriate stuff.

Want to know who’s searching for the hair of the dog in the Capitol complex? Check the tweets.

“Did I mention I’m violently hungover?” one House staffer complained.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I wouldn’t wish hungover flying on my worst enemy,” wrote a House committee staffer.

Then there’s the profanity. F-bombs abound. “Well [expletive], in a few brackets two of my final four teams are out,” complained a Senate committee staffer. Another House staffer retweeted this affirmation: “Life is so short, just do what the [expletive] makes you happy.”

Charming.

It gets worse, but we’ll spare our readers’ sensibilities. Staffers have long treaded recklessly in social-media land: Many identify themselves in bios as employees of lawmakers or committees, and yet their tweets are a blend of work-related topics and irreverent (even NSFW) personal messages.

Enter StormFeed, which aggregates the Twitter feeds of about 5,000 lawmakers, current and former staff members, and lobbyists. About 2,000 of those are staffers, and about half of those have made their accounts private — including hundreds since StormFeed debuted.

A storm indeed.

Friedly explains that beyond exposing the seamier side of Hill aides, the tool is helpful to understanding how Congress functions. “It’s useful to find out what’s on their minds, what they’re talking about, what they’re thinking,” he said.

Just maybe not everything they’re thinking.

View from the trenches

The latest survey of federal workers’ job satisfaction surely proves the immortal Mel Brooks line from “History of the World, Part I”: “It’s good to be the king.”

The problem is, it’s not so good to be a worker bee.

And when “the views of the leaders and their employees are at great variance, it . . . could mean that employees see real problems that the senior executives do not,” the survey, by the Partnership for Public Service, concludes.

The analysis, released Wednesday, is a slice of the partnership’s annual Best Places to Work survey and compares 7,000 Senior Executive Service members with the rest of the country’s 2.1 million government workers.

In terms of job satisfaction and commitment, the SES members’ scored themselves 82.6 on a scale of 100, while lower-ranking folks scored 64.

That’s to be expected, we’re told, since people at the top “enjoy more autonomy and have more control” over their work situations — not to mention the higher pay. Still, the survey found, “the difference is quite stark.”

SES members thought they were effective leaders, giving themselves a 78.9 rating. Their employees were not so enthused, giving their bosses a 55.8 score.

The gap hit a whopping 31.1 points (79.7 to 48.6) on the “fairness” question: “Arbitrary action, personal favoritism and coercion for political purposes are not tolerated.” Seems as though most federal workers think those things are indeed tolerated.

The gap between the leaders and the led on general attitudes toward their work was greatest at the Department of Homeland Security (26 points), the Agriculture Department (24.2) and the Navy Department (23.3). It was smallest at the Commerce Department (eight points), the Social Security Administration (11.5) and the Justice Department (11.9).

There was a government-wide 28.5-point gap between leaders and rank and file on whether rewards are based on merit.

At DHS, “almost eight of ten SES members” agreed that promotions were based on merit, the survey found. But “only about one in five” of lower-level employees thought so.

That huge disparity “is brutal, just brutal,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the partnership, and “indicates an organization in trouble.”

Furloughs probably won’t help matters.

Unsighted insight?

House members offered a warm welcome to Chen Guangcheng, the celebrated blind Chinese human rights activist, to a Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Tuesday. They had plenty of kind words for their witness — and lots of metaphors.

Must have been their enthusiasm (and this spring air?) that made them turn poetic.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the panel, kicked things off. “It took a blind man to really see the injustice of a population-control program,” he said. “It took a blind man — the great Chen Guangcheng — to open the eyes of a blind world to these human rights violations.”

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) took up the mantle, invoking the lyrics to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which was penned by an anti-slavery activist. “Which says, ‘I was blind but now I see,’ ” Meadows noted. “How fitting it is today to have someone who is blind, who is helping us see the atrocities that are happening even today in this global economy.”

And finally, Rep. Randy Weber (R-Tex.) took a turn. “Helen Keller once said that there’s none so blind as he who will not see,” quoth he.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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