Federal Employees News Digest

About last night...

When computers were first introduced into the workplace, they were mainly in-house email channels and word-processors. They didn’t have all the bells, whistles and apps we take for granted today. At least that’s the way I remembered it back when I was a very young reporter with The Washington Post. But the simplicity of the old Raytheon terminals, which looked like ancient TV-with-tubes sets, taught me a good lesson. I think about it a lot. What happened was this:

I was merely typing away when there was a bell-like sound. That meant I had a message. Pretty exciting stuff back in the day. I called it up. The message, from another male reporter who was about my age said something like this:

“SORRY ABOUT LAST NITE”

I was surprised because nothing had happened the night before. At least not with him. I had been home with my wife. Not someplace with him. So what was he apologizing for? And why to me? Then another message to me:

“THAT’S NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE”

(My question to myself was what’s never happened before?) Then yet another message:

“I HAVEN’T BEEN SLEEPING WELL AND I’VE BEEN TAKING SOME MEDICINE. I HOPE WE CAN GO OUT AGAIN!”

By now I was beginning to figure out that the message was not intended for me. Definitely not me. Or anyone else in the newsroom –except for one other person. And I was beginning to have a good idea who she was. And what went wrong. Or at least didn’t work the night before. In addition to his current problem (as in the night before) his even more current problem was that he had told the world (or at least a couple hundred people he worked with and knew) that he had a malfunction the night before.

By now several friends and fellow reporters had come over to see if I had received Reporter X’s email. And if I knew who it was intended for.

We finally figured out what had not happened the night before. And with whom it hadn’t happened. And why.

I learned several lessons with that very personal email that was accidentally sent to hundreds of coworkers.

One, is that you can send a message to one person or, to everybody.

And lessons two, three, four, five, six and so on is be-careful-what-you-put in writing. Or in an email. Or Twitter. Or any social media. Which is a lesson many people—like former Congressman Anthony Weiner—obviously haven’t learned.

The other day Harvard rescinded the admission of a brilliant student, a survivor of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., because of something he posted two years ago (when he was 16) on social media. Whether you agree or not, he did it. And somebody remembered or found it and sent it to the

board of regents at the prestigious school. He’ll get by. Maybe do very well. But he won’t have the Harvard creds.

Almost every day now some federal worker, or contractor, posts or emails something that could be a problem. Maybe a career stopper. I know of three people, otherwise bright and competent, who lost their jobs because of something they emailed or posted. It doesn’t have to go viral to damage or ruin your career.

Thanks to the nature of their work, the spotlight that is on them and the Hatch “no politics” Act, civil servants more than most need to be careful. It’s not a matter of free speech, or lack of same. It’s a common sense thing. As in when a father urges a son not-to-do-anything-stupid! Good if a bit general.

And that’s always been a challenge, especially to young males. Now it is a challenge to all of us, all the time. And it’s only going to get worse.

So be careful. When in any doubt, don’t!

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

Contributors

Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

Free E-Newsletter

FederalDAILY

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.

Stay Connected

Latest Forum Posts

Ask the Expert

Have a question regarding your federal employee benefits or retirement?

Submit a question