How to conquer the policy mountain

FCW's DotGov Thursday column presents a guide for navigating the stacks of IT policy that Webmasters and other managers face

"Top Skill Areas for Federal Business Managers"

Last week, I presented a column full of material on information technology policy. Clearly, the overview addressed a huge amount of reading ["IT policy viewed through the GPEA lens"].

So, for the short term, I suggest scanning outlines and sorting through the policy issues. This enables you to recognize what the issues are. And many times, simply realizing that something is an issue can be a key way to keep out of trouble.

First and foremost, invest plenty of time in understanding security issues and then ensuring that security is embedded and threaded throughout agency Web sites and applications. No single component solves the security problem. It must be multilevel vertically and horizontally.

Second, because you will not have time to read all the policy material you encounter, focus on scanning the outline and turning the pages to get a feel for the policy and to identify the burning issues. This may mean spending only five or 10 minutes on a document that is 100 pages long.

Third, file documents for reading later or for accessing in your filing system (electronic or paper). Read key documents, such as the public-key infrastructure handbook, thoroughly.

Fourth, and most important, have a bias toward action. Act when in doubt and try to create real value for other people. The simple honesty of trying to help others, I believe, sorts out 99.9 percent of policy issues.

Fifth, when biased toward action, try to do at least what everyone else does. In legal terms this is called "commonly accepted business practices" and it justifies doing what you are doing. Most of the World Wide Web is new to everyone. We can't foresee every circumstance that may occur. By at least by doing what others are doing, you are in the right zone. It's a fact of life that sometimes, no matter what you do, someone will target your site and work extremely hard at penetrating it. Learn from these experiences and try to improve continuously.

Sixth, if you are in a position to lead, you must lead. Otherwise, you are better off stepping aside or at least supporting others who have taken the lead. If you have a high-profile site or activity, own up to the responsibility that it will be hard work for a while.

The Web—and the best technique for harnessing it—is still emerging. Bite the bullet sooner, rather than later. Life will get back to some version of normal. We all go through phases of heightened activity. To maintain a balanced life, plan and act to create a normal working environment, but just realize that sometimes there are peaks and valleys. Best wishes.

Kellett is founder of the federal Web Business Council, co-chairman of the federal WebMasters Forum and is director of GSA's Emerging IT Policies Division.