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Advice Unlimited

Advice Unlimited

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Finding the Opportunity in Sequestration: For Government Communicators

Sequestration has been featured prominently in the headlines, especially since it went into effect on March 1, 2013. Sequestration will consist of $85 billion in government budget cuts in 2013 divided between Defense discretionary (42%), Non-defense discretionary (27%), Interest (16%), Medicare (11%), and other mandatory (4%). Now several agencies have begun to furlough their employees as required, and the public is becoming aware of the real pain of sequestration, and how it will impact their lives. Communicating about sequestration plans is crucially important and in today’s environment, communications are being carefully scrutinized – what programs will be impacted? How is sequestration affecting companies, government organizations, and local economies? It is important that both employees and members of the public know how the plan will affect them. Every word counts. Meanings and nuances matter. This is a perfect opportunity for organizations to sharpen their pencils and clarify, focus, and clearly communicate their message. And leverage this time in the public’s attention to ensure you are also communicating your mission, its value, and how you are ensuring support for your mission even with reduced budgets.
Sequestration is now starting to become more ‘real,’ as government organizations implement the required changes. Employees are being furloughed and already reduced resources are being further squeezed or eliminated. It is more important than ever to get the facts right the first time. Sequestration budget cuts are sporadic, so the lines of communication need to be open among agencies, their employees, and their constituents. Communicating incorrect information confuses agency employees and the public, requires a correction notice to be published and undermines the efficiency of the agency. It is crucial to release the correct information the first time, and communicate it in a concise manner, through appropriate communication channels that will be easily understood and accessed by agency employees and members of the public. Especially in the current environment,  make sure your  public outreach plan  integrates new and traditional media to reach your audience where they go for information, and through a channel that’s most appealing and accessible to them  – this is the single most powerful tool in any agency’s communications tool kit.
There is a great deal of confusion about sequestration, so clear communication is crucially important to both government employees and members of the public that rely on your agency. The FAA’s sequester budget cuts went into effect last week via furloughs of 10% of its workforce, and the number of flight delays quickly piled up due to the lack of air traffic controllers available to monitor busy air corridors. This is a situation where the FAA should be openly communicating their issues to members of the public so people who are flying will be aware of the increased likelihood that their flight could be delayed. According to an article on Yahoo! News, “Airline and airport officials say they didn’t receive specific information from the FAA about how the furloughs might affect air traffic until a meeting called by the agency on April 16, six days before the furlough took affect.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA officials have provided warning since February that the furloughs were coming and major airports such as Los Angeles International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport could see delays due to furloughed workers, but they did not give specific notice of the trickle-down effects that would spread to other airports nation wide, even though they had that information on hand before the furloughs were implemented. Due to the lack of communication about specific towers/towns where staff would be reduced, and how the public would be affected, travelers were left stranded for hours. After a Senate meeting on Wednesday, LaHood told reporters, “We offered our apologies to them for the fact that we had not kept them informed about all of the things that we had been discussing.” The employees need to understand how their job will be affected and the public needs to know how the agency’s budget cuts will affect their lives. Getting your message out to your public speedily, concisely, and with as much detail as possible is always the best approach. Provide updates as needed, to ensure the public is well informed and has the information they need when they need it (or before!).
Many people have questions about sequestration. The government is the largest employer in the United States, so communicating with its many employees is no small feat, in addition to keeping the public informed about the changes that will impact constituent services. Agencies are feeling the impact of furloughs and other reductions in their resources, so efficiency is key.
Implementing clear and concise communication tactics will cut down on confusion, misinformation, and time spent apologizing and correcting errors. One suggestion for improving inter-agency communications would be creating an interactive digital communication channel where employees are given a forum to voice their concerns, ask questions, and make suggestions. Internally, agencies could create a private and secure forum for employees only, using the agency Intranet. The forum would create a place for general discussion, information sharing, questions, and suggestions. According to an article on, “by using a collaborative forum, you might be able to strengthen your relationship with employees by being able to gather feedback and create dialogue with your coworkers in an environment that’s more secure than a social network but more open than a typical intranet.” The public could participate in the sequester discussion through a “question and answer” forum connected to the agency’s website or Facebook page. A public relations firm can be a great asset when creating new communication channels and spreading news to your target audience. For additional information about improving communication during sequestration and developing communication strategies, please contact me at, check out our website at, and follow us on twitter

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