May 06, 2012

Farewell, Thanks, and New Beginnings

Working with Steve Epstein eight years ago, I began IEC Journal with the thought that after three or four months of operation, it would be sufficiently well established so that I could pass the ball to other volunteers. Not a bad plan, but something unexpected happened:

IEC Journal turned out to be so rewarding, both personally and professionally, that I wound up staying much longer than intended.

Since our first substantive post on February 1, 2004, the Journal has been a significant resource for the IEC and the broader ethics community. Useful as the IEC's monthly meetings are, the Journal has had a significantly broader reach. As demonstrated on the statistical summary screen capture (TIFF format) as of this morning, IEC Journal has published 2,246 posts ("articles"). There have been 455,981 page views (not "hits"; the number of "hits" could easily be ten times that number or more), and an average of 154 page views per day. The pattern of page views on the 120 day summary chart is not surprising, but is instructive: Usage drops to almost nothing on weekends and spikes when important stories are published. Conclusion: The ethics community has embraced the Journal as a key resource.

However, no matter how successful or rewarding this project has been, eight years is enough for one person to contribute. I have decided to shift my attention to other projects, including magazine articles, maybe another book, and a couple of exciting new web projects (more about them below). To avoid a lapse in service, I will allow the IEC free use of this site until at least June 15, and will assist the IEC leadership in transitioning the Journal to the web server of their choice.

Thanks

This project would never have gotten off the ground without the vision of Steve Epstein, former IEC Chair. While many, perhaps most government bureaucrats let fear of rocking the boat make them shy away from innovation, Steve embraced it. He saw the enormous potential of a website to fulfill the IEC's mission and steadfastly supported it.

Senior officials at the Office of Government Ethics and the White House Counsel's Office also deserve thanks. Bureaucracies being what they are, many in those positions would have succumbed to the thought: "We don't control it, so let's kill it." To their credit, that never happened. Though the White House Counsel's office did, justifiably, request that I correct one error of judgment by a junior Journal contributor, in over eight years of operation, I never received the slightest hint of pressure from anyone in either of those organizations to shut the project down.

Department of Justice lawyer Bert DiBella did not contribute a giant number of posts, but I believe his high quality articles about the Merit Systems Protection Board were a significant factor in helping the Journal gain early credibility with its target audience. While most contributor posts are under pen names, I began the Training Tips column in 2011 under my own name, in hopes of inspiring other subject matter experts like Bert to begin columns under their own names. This has not happened yet, but hope springs eternal.

Pat Carney has been a reliable and valuable Journal contributor from the beginning. Amanda Blue has displayed a high level of good judgment and writing ability. John Szabo contributed worthy posts before his retirement. Jeff Green deserves credit for his saintly patience with those who do not sufficiently understand or respect that the role of IEC Chair is a volunteer duty. There have been other contributors, but those are the ones that first come to mind.

Getting Personal

While teaching a large number of CLE classes over the past 20 years, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon. While audience feedback is usually good, it seems like I get at least as much benefit from teaching the classes as any of the students in taking them. The time I spend preparing deepens my understanding. The questions stimulate my thinking in valuable new directions.

My experience with IEC Journal has been similar. Even though most of my contributions have been under a pen name, I've been gratified by the recognition received, including praise from senior ethics officials prestigious agencies. 

However, I admit I feel a little guilty every time I receive such praise. My subjective sense is that whatever benefits I've given to others have been dwarfed by the personal and professional benefits I've gotten from the project. Therefore, I proffer my sincere thanks to the ethics community for one of the best gifts I've ever received: The opportunity to serve.

New Beginnings

I'll be rechanneling the effort I used to spend on IEC Journal into other volunteer opportunities, including:

Improving Quality of Ethics Training: Government employees deserve a higher quality of ethics instruction than most of them are presently receiving. Institutional constraints have limited the ability of the Office of Government Ethics to provide what I personally consider to be top quality support to ethics trainers throughout the government.

Rather than curse the darkness, I have decided to do what I can to fill the gap. Labor intensive presentations at several OGE conferences and 24 Training Tips columns since January 1, 2011 have been a down payment. Last fall I created the Ethics Training Resources website. I have not given it a real rollout because I have not been able to devote the time needed to bring it up to the desired level. Now I hope to be in a position to turn it into a significant resource.

Independent Commentary on Ethics Issues: To provide greater freedom for independent analysis and commentary on problems and trends in the ethics community, I am establishing a new website, Government Ethics Watch. I've registered the domain name govethicswatch.org, and hope to roll the site out in a week or two.

The title is loosely inspired by the nonprofit organization OMB Watch, but there are key differences:

  1. The new site will not be restricted to monitoring one agency, but will take a broader look at what are considered ethical issues in the government, including Hatch Act implementation, fiscal law issues, etc.
  2. The new project will be considerably more modest. It will be a volunteer project without OMB Watch's large paid staff. I'm looking for a small number of contributors who want to make a difference, and have the experience and ability to do so. If interested, send me an e-mail (lawsonmobile AT netlawtools.com) with information about your qualifications. I don't need a resume, just enough information to give me a sense of your experience and ability, to decide if an interview would be appropriate.

Jerry Lawson
May 6, 2012

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

April 22, 2012

Meaning of Link or Quote

This site has maintained a prominent link to its attribution policy since Feb. 1, 2004. There seems to be some recent confusion about what it means when IEC Journal links to or quotes from a news story. At the risk of stating the obvious we note:

A link or a quote should not be interpreted as an endorsement.

We include links or quotes for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we link to or quote from material we do not agree with, because we believe it is important for anyone doing ethics work to have an awareness of divergent views.

The Office of Government Ethics shares this goal of exposing ethics officials to divergent views. One of the most memorable examples was OGE giving a featured speaking role at one of its conferences to G. Calvin Mackenzie, author of the book Scandal Proof. It would be fair to describe a main thesis of Dr. Mackenzie's book to be that OGE's approach to government ethics regulation for decades has been misguided and ineffective.

Did OGE invite Dr. Mackenzie to be a featured speaker because they agreed with him? Not at all. To their credit, they thought exposure to his contrary viewpoint would strengthen the ethics community.

OGE was right. Listening only to those who only repeat things you already know, or who agree with you is not conducive to professional growth.

When we link to organizations like The Center for Public Integrity, Government Accountability Project, Project on Government Oversight, or even some random newspaper columnist or blogger with something interesting to say about ethics (like this one), we are trying to stimulate critical thought. You may not agree with everything they say. You may consider their views hopelessly naive and unrealistic. However, we believe (and OGE's track record makes us think they believe) that awareness of broader policy debates makes the ethics community stronger, not weaker.

Our linking/quoting practices are in the mainstream of those followed by the better websites like IEC Journal, and we believe them to be well understood by most even moderately sophisticated readers. However, suppose you believe that unsophisticated readers of IEC Journal may be confused, and may assume that a link to a site constitutes a tacit endorsement of the material there?

Not a problem! We welcome more voices, more viewpoints. We will be glad to publish any type of supplement or clarification you care to submit, under your name, your agency's name, or as an unattributed item. We're not like the New York Times or Washington Post that may deign to run a short letter to the editor, if anything.

We are pleased to have received fantastic audience feedback in the 8+ years we have been in operation. People seem to understand what we are doing, and appreciate it a great deal. With your feedback and contributions we believe IEC Journal can become even stronger. We welcome your support.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

April 13, 2012

Thanks to IEC Reporter Amanda Blue

Today we celebrate the anniversary of IEC Reporter Amanda Blue's contributions to IEC Journal. Her timely and relevant posts have graced the website, and are grateful to have a reporter of her quality.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

April 11, 2012

Downloading Problems?

One IEC member was unable to download the Hatch Act PowerPoint show distributed here recently. Here are some suggestions, for those who might experience similar problems:

In a sometimes misguided attempt to bolster security, some agencies install arbitrary automated rules limiting downloads from certain sites, or certain types of files. For some reason, the Army was particularly prone to such errors a few years ago. It sounds like you are experiencing a similar problem.

In my experience, if you can find the right person on your IT staff and patiently explain the error to the right person, they will usually correct their mistake. I’ve generally found it easier to get the file I need by accessing IEC Journal from a computer that is not under agency control.

 

Usually I would suggest a third troubleshooting technique: Download the slide show from the OSC web site (in case the filter in question gave preference to .gov domain websites). However, on a quick search, I was unable to locate the slide show there.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Hatch Act | Permalink

April 05, 2012

Accessing IEC Journal Archives

Many IEC Journal users enjoy our frequent updates but may not be familiar with how to access the treasures contained in our archives. Each of our over 2000 posts since 2004 is available. We offer the following methods to locate archives information:

Categories. Selecting one of the topcs at left, like Fiscal Law, GAO, etc., will lead to previous posts on that subject.

Search Engine. Type your search phrase in the box in the upper right corner and press Search. We use a free version of the Google search engine, customized to search only the domain IECJournal.org. The search results include ads. This is Google's way of charging us for the use of the customized search engine.

Daily Calendar. If you are looking for a post on a particular day, you can click the date on the calendar in the upper right side of the page.

Monthly Calendar. Just below the daily calendar we have links to our archives sorted by months.

Ad Hoc Calendar. If you want to find a post by date but it's older than the menus provided by default, you can extrapolate the date. Our platform uses a uniform, predictable pattern for numbering old posts, so you can extrapolate from the form that's readily available. For example, the link for the archives of June 2011 is: 

http://www.iecjournal.org/iec/2011/06/index.html

If you want the archives for 2006, just change the number 2011 to 2006.

Familiarity with the IEC Journal archives will give you a valuable resource.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 20, 2012

IEC Journal Celebrates Eighth Birthday

This month the IEC Journal celebrates its eighth anniversary. (Our first post is available for the historically-minded). We are pleased to be able to provide this service for the ethics community and, with continuing support from our reporters and community members who provide information, we look forward to continued support for ethics officials government-wide.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 08, 2012

Accessing IEC Journal Updates

Due to new people entering the ethics community all the time, some questions repeat themselves. One perennial is: How can I get on your mailing list?

We don't operate a conventional e-mail mailing list, but we make updates available though a variety of other methods, including Twitter and an RSS feed that can be accessed in various ways, including web post-to-email conversion services These methods are summarized in a September post. If you have trouble using those methods, or find a better way, please let us know.

More generally, note that we archive administrative information about this site under our About category, available in a sidebar. That is the place to go if you want to review what we have posted previously about site access and other administrative topics.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 03, 2012

Two Items: Downloading Materials and Delays

Download Issues

At least a few people had difficulties downloading handouts before yesterday's meeting. Most often, problems like this are caused by agency security measures. Try contacting your agency's IT security staff. They will usually be your best bet.

In unusual situations, we will be glad to talk with your tech staff about how we operate at our end, but since our operation is mostly "plain vanilla" with no exotic technologies, this should not usually be necessary.

Delays

Partly due to health issues, we are somewhat behind on posting items suggested by IEC members. Please excuse the delays as we try to catch up.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

October 26, 2011

New Feature: Help Available -- Edited 2/22/12

Our "Job Announcements" feature has long been one of our most popular features. We are adding a new feature to reflect changes in the labor market. We are setting up a "Help Available" category. People seeking government ethics jobs or work as personal service contractors can announce their availability in the Comments section below.

To make it clear that the new feature is the inverse of our previous feature, we have also renamed the "Job Announcements" category as "Help Wanted."

We've had some trouble with the comment posting feature, so we'll be posting manually until it's resolved:

Updated February 22, 2010

Ethos LLC, a Woman Owned Small Business, provides skilled professionals who can be contracted on an annual, monthly or ad hoc basis. Our team includes ethics subject matter experts to provide you with knowledgeable support in:

  • Providing in-depth analysis, coordination, and compliance with government-wide and agency-specific Public and Confidential Financial Disclosure reporting requirements
  • Employee and contractor training on all aspects of the federal ethics program
  • Reviewing and making realistic recommendations in preparation for, or follow-up after, ethics program reviews
  • Establishing “Best Practices” for your ethics program

Ethos LLC is pleased to announce that John Szabo and Arnie Haiman have joined the company as Senior Ethics Advisors.  Ethos provides a full range of ethics services to the Federal sector including training and forms preparation and review.  Mr. Szabo was the former Special Counsel for Ethics and Administration of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Co-chairman of the IEC.  Mr. Haiman was the former Deputy General Counsel and Designated Agency Ethics Official to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

For more information, please visit our website at www.EthicsMadeEasy.com or call us at 703-538-4477.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Help Available, Help Wanted | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 19, 2011

ABA Article: Using RSS Feeds with Internet Explorer

RSS feeds are the best way to keep up with IEC Journal and other websites using sophisticated technology. An ABA Legal Technology Center article explains how to use RSS feeds with the Microsoft web browser, Internet Explorer (IE). Here is a key paragraph:

Finding RSS feeds

In the IE feed reader’s properties, you can set the browser to play a sound when a feed is found for a Web site. Additionally the orange icon in the toolbar will glow. So, as you surf the Web keep an eye, or ear, out for these indicators.  Finding feeds is simple with sites like Technorati, a popular blog search engine.  Some legal RSS feeds to get you started include ABA Site-tationLaw Practice Today  and the ABA Journal . Additionally, Justia offers RSS feeds for federal district court dockets. Simply run a search by party, district, and/or lawsuit type. When the results page loads, click on the RSS icon in the browser toolbar to add the feed to your reader.  Once you begin using feed readers you will see that this is just the tip of the iceberg for this great technology.

via www.americanbar.org

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Technology and Ethics | Permalink

September 18, 2011

OGE Conference Thoughts (Open Thread)

A rew reactions to the 2011 OGE Conference:

  1. Excellent overall organization, with many thoughtful touches to enhance the learning experience. OGE deserves credit for being willing to experiment with something as innovative as the smartphone app, though there were a few glitches. Some felt that the related website was a less than optimal solution for those without smartphones, while not everyone with a smartphone was enamoured with the app.
  2. There are a lot of smart people throughout the government doing a lot of smart things. The conference provides a great start on improving efficiency through inter-agency sharing, but resource limitations and institutional constraints put a limit on what OGE can do. There is more that the IEC, and this website in particular could do to fill the gaps.

We have enabled the Comments function to allow others to share their impressions.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, OGE | Permalink | Comments (4)

September 11, 2011

Accessing IEC Journal Updates

Due to IEC member turnover, we get some questions repeatedly. Here is a perennial, with an updated answer:

Q: How do I sign up for IEC Journal?

A: Lots of ways. Here are a few of the more popular:

  1. We’re on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#%21/iecjournal
     
  2. As smartphones become increasingly popular, RSS apps for iPhone and Droid are becoming a major alternative. Here is the IEC Journal RSS feed.

  3. Many people like RSS-to-email services like FeedBlitz, though in my experience the message formatting leaves something to be desired.

  4. If monitoring multiple RSS feeds, there is a lot to like about Google Reader, including the fact that you can access it through any web browser. The downside: Unlike most of the other alternatives mentioned here, it doesn't send out updates automatically. The MS Internet Explorer browser has similar advantages and disadvantages. I find it works pretty well, except for not "pushing" updates. Updates don't come to you automatically. You have to load the RSS reader function, then "refresh" to get the latest updates.

  5. Some people like Google Alerts.

  6. Federal agency security policies prevent many IEC members from installing new software on their office computers. However, you can use software that is already installed on your office computer to read the IEC Journal RSS feed. At least since 2007, Outlook, Microsoft’s flagship e-mail program contains a serviceable built-in RSS reader.

You can ask your tech support staff for help in setting this up, but take-charge types will prefer to do it themselves. A quick search on your favorite search engine for a phrase like "RSS Outlook 2007" will usually find instructions quickly.

For example, here is how to set up RSS feeds in Outlook 2010:  

The RSS icon appears in the menu bar at left, like a regular mail folder. To set it up, right click on the RSS Feeds folder label. Then select “Add an RSS feed.”  When the dialog box appears, paste the URL (Internet address) of the RSS feed.  The RSS feed will appear in Outlook as if it were a series of e-mail messages.

Want to add another RSS feed? Repeat the process.

If you want to import RSS feeds from a different RSS reader program, export them as an OPML file. Then right click the RSS Feeds folder again and select the option “Import an OPML file.”

People who like MS Outlook should find this option highly attractive. I find that the better format makes it far preferable to receiving e-mails from a service like Feedblitz.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

August 15, 2011

POGO Explanation of RSS Feeds

Like many sophisticated websites, the Project for Government Ethics uses RSS feeds extensively as a convenience for readers. Their excellent explanation of RSS feeds may be useful for those still trying to get up to speed on this valuable tool.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

August 08, 2011

Volunteer Opportunities

Would you like to be more involved with the Interagency Ethics Council? To raise your profile in the ethics community, possibly to enhance your possibility of career advancement?

Check out or memo describing volunteer opportunities:

Download Iec-volunteer-opportunities2

Know something useful that could be done, but don't see it on this list? Let us know.

Minor edit Aug. 9, 2011.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

May 05, 2011

Social Media Access to IEC Journal

As a convenience to our readers, IEC Journal is now available via Twitter.  Thanks to Erica Dornburg for the suggesting this method of increasing the value of this operation.

Use this URL or hypertext link to access our updates via Twitter:

Apps to access the Twitter feed are available for iPhones, Droids and Blackberries.

We have also set up an IEC Journal page on Facebook:

Our Facebook site has already received a "Very Good" rating from Facebook, but it is not operating perfectly yet. Posts to our main website, http://www.iecjournal.org, are not being automatically reposted to the Facebook account. We are using the Facebook Blogged app, as recommended by Typepad, our website provider, but Facebook provides error messages. We welcome advice from Facebook-savvy IEC members in resolving this.

We'll be adding "badges" to assist in accessing these social media supplements.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 17, 2011

RSS User Feedback

Our recent post on the advantages of RSS feeds struck a favorable note with one IEC member, who responded:

I saw your post about RSS feeds and totally agree. I personally use Google Reader and Pulse on my Galaxy Tab every day to keep up with news and a wealth of training information found on various blogs. Here’s a link to a video of a plain English explanation of what an RSS feed is, and how it works.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 12, 2011

An RSS Reader In Your Pocket?

Are you enjoying a Santa-delivered new iPad?  How about a fancy cell phone like an iPhone or Android-based model?  My wife loves her Droid X, that's for sure.

Free RSS readers are available for all these platforms.  They may make it easier for you to keep up with IEC Journal and other technically advanced websites.

Attorney At Work, the "One Really Good Idea a Day" website for lawyers, observes:

Do you have a tech-savvy friend who always seems to know things days before everyone else? The newest decisions are in their hands faster, or a mention of the firm’s name in the local paper is noted within hours of being released?

The assumption is “these people must spend their whole day surfing!” While that’s true for some, there’s another group out there power surfing the web, quickly and efficiently taking in mass amounts of news and headlines. RSS readers, whether web-based like Google Reader or application-based like FeedDemon, allow us to consume the exact information we want, faster.

Some RSS feeds provide only the title of a post and a sentence or so. To read the entire post, you have to follow a link to the source. The IEC Journal provides the entire text of each post in its RSS feed, increasing the value for those who prefer to get the whole story from their RSS reader.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 01, 2011

IEC Journal Celebrates Seventh Birthday

February 1 marks the seventh anniversary of IEC Journal's first posts. We are pleased to be able to provide this service to the ethics community, and with continuing contributions from our readership, we plan to continue operations for the foreseeable future. Thanks for your assistance.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

January 06, 2011

Comment Function Open on Training Tips Columns

We have normally kept the Comments function closed at IEC Journal, to avoid automated comment spam.  However, to encourage dialog with the audience, our new Training Tips columnist has requested that we open the Comments feature on Training Tips columns.  We have done so on the first column, and will be leaving Comments on for at least a few weeks for each column.

Mr. Lawson has provided us with the first eight columns in the series, and we will be posting one every Monday.  The topic for the January 10 column will be: "Studies Show A Positive Approach Pays Dividends."

Feedback so far has been favorable, and we are very interested in adding other columnists.  We are open to regular or irregular scheduling.  Do you know things that might benefit others in the ethics community?  A column could be perfect, especially if you would like to raise your profile in the community.  Get in touch with us.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Training Tips | Permalink

January 01, 2011

Moving Forward in 2011

Our plans to improve IEC Journal over the coming year include:

  1. Increasing the sharing of training materials and other information.
  2. Getting more news tips and links to resources from our readership.
  3. Recruiting a volunteer to maintain an online ethics calendar.
  4. Recruiting columnists to write regularly for our readership.

A first iteration of the IEC Journal calendar is now available, and we will be posting more information about it as we develop the features.  Our first columnist, Jerry Lawson, will be providing Training Tips every Monday.

If you have news tips or links to resources or would like to help us maintain the calendar, let us know

We are very interested in adding more columns.  We could use people to write about MSPB developments, fiscal law, Hatch Act, OGE developments and many other topics.  Columns need not be issued on a regular schedule, but as newsworthy information becomes available.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Training Tips | Permalink

September 17, 2010

Tracing Broken Links

We received a request via e-mail concerning one of our old postings:

Is the following training still available? OnlineTraining: Working with Contractors: What You Need to Know

When I click on the link it says page is not found. Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated.

Reproducing the answer may help others understand how they can help themselves when they have similar questions:

Like many organizations, OGE has been known to rearrange its website, breaking addresses. You could try contacting OGE and asking them about it. It might not be easy to find the responsible person at OGE. Therefore, it is probably more efficient to first try to track down the new address yourself. Self-help is good in this situation.

This is one of the reasons we include the link to a customized OGE Google search engine at iecjournal.org. It searches only the OGE site. In this case, a search on the phrase "Working With Contractors: What You Need to Know" leads to:

http://www.usoge.gov/training/training_modules.aspx

One of the links there has training about working with contractors.

If the site you are searching does not have a customized search engine, you can get a similar result by including the word "site:" before the name of the website to be searched. For example, to search the U.S. Treasury web site for information about ethics, use the search term "ethics site:treasury.gov". Look under the "Advanced Searches" tab at Google for more information about this and other search techniques.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Issues: Contractors in the Workplace, OGE | Permalink

May 21, 2010

RSS Feed Infomation

RSS feeds are used to keep track of new information on websites that change frequently. An IEC member asked for information about using our RSS feed this week. It is a link off the main page, at this address:
    
    http://www.iecjournal.org/iec/index.rdf
    
Some people prefer a different format called Atom.  It is also available:
    
    http://www.iecjournal.org/iec/atom.xml     

Enter your preference into your preferred software.

More information is available under our "About" archive category. If you are having difficulty getting your software to work, ask the IT contact at your agency for help. If they are not able to help, we are willing to try (though our "Contact Us" link), but we do not claim to be familiar with all the software that uses RSS feeds.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 24, 2010

Sixth Anniversary of IEC Journal

This month IEC Journal celebrates its sixth anniversary of service to the federal ethics community. Help us have more successful years by continuing to provide leads and share resources.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 04, 2009

Distributing Audio & Video?

Do you have audio or video ethics instruction material that would benefit others? Let us know via the "Contact Us"' link at left. We would love to distribute such materials here.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 01, 2009

Reading IEC Journal on Your iPhone

NetNewsWire is an RSS reader that works on an iPhone. The developer provides a NetNewsWire/iPhone FAQ with Answers to frequently-asked-questions about NetNewsWire 2.0 for iPhone. Other newsreaders are available for the iPhone. Many other platforms support RSS readers as well.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

October 24, 2009

Social Networking Echo?

We can set this site up so that posts to the website are automatically echoed to Twitter and/or Facebook. We are reluctant to invest the time to do this unless it would benefit a significant number of our readers. If you would find this convenient, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at left.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

September 28, 2009

Problems Accessing IEC Journal Website

Since the founding of the IEC Journal website in 2004, a few members have occasionally encountered trouble accessing it through their office accounts. The most common cause has been unsophisticated IT staff at a few agencies who have set their firewalls to block all "blogs." These problems have typically been solved easily. It's been simply a matter of educating the IT staff so they understand that while many blogs are dubious sources of information, others are essential professional tools. 

More recently, the IT staff at one large agency has intermittently blocked access to IEC Journal as a perceived security risk. They say that the server hosting IEC Journal sometimes engages in what they ominously refer to as "malicious activity."  On questioning, they explain that by this they mean "port scanning." Port scanning is an ambiguous activity that can be benign, but is sometimes used by hackers to identify potential targets.  

Due to the nature of the software used, it's impossible for contributors to IEC Journal or the administrator to conduct port scanning. They don't have the necessary rights. Only someone with control of the web server could use it to conduct port scanning.

The web server is hosted by a reputable contractor, Six Apart, (though its subsidiary Typepad). This company has no motive to conduct port scanning. Nevertheless, we coordinated with them and verified that they do not conduct port scanning. While it is remotely conceivable that hackers could have gained root access to a Six Apart/Typepad server and are using it as a base of operations without the owners' knowledge, it is much more likely that the agency IT staff is simply confused. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that other agency IT staffs, of equal or greater sophistication, have not had any similar concerns. 

We have deliberately avoided identifying the agency involved, because we have no desire to embarrass them.  We sympathize with the ethics lawyers at the affected agency, and wish you success in resolving this issue with your agency's IT bureaucracy. 

In the meantime, the access blockage should not affect e-mails coming from the various third parties that echo postings to the web site.  They come from different IP addresses.  One option for setting up or modifying an account with one of those services is to use a home PC to set it up, but using your office address as the e-mail destination.

The Typepad support desk suggested users at the affected agency consider using a proxy service like Proxify or UnipeakNote: we have not tested these, and make no representation that they will work at any particular agency. Some agencies may not allow any proxy server use.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

June 05, 2009

Receiving Notification of IEC Journal Updates--Edited May, 2011

Updated May 15, 2011:

There are multiple ways to obtain automatic notification of IEC Journal updates. Here are a few of the more common:

1. Twitter.

2. RSS feed (also available in Atom format). Use RSS reader of your choice. The advantages of RSS are explained in two posts, Saving Time With RSS Feeds and Fight Information Overload With News That Comes to You.

3. RSS-to-E-mail Services. There are many services that regularly "scrape" the RSS feeds from websites, and redistribute them via e-mail, including Feedblitz and Google Alerts (both discussed below). Many IEC Journal members have found them useful. Please, note, however, that these are independent services operated by third party businesses. If you find them more convenient than using an RSS reader or checking the web site every day, feel free to use them, but be aware that the IEC has no control over them, and is not responsible for any lapses in service. We provide information about them solely for the benefit of our users who do not use RSS readers and find it more convenient to receive updates by e-mail.

The demise of one RSS-to-E-mail service (RSS-FWD) prompted IEC member Wayne L. Johnson to draft the following explanation of two such services: 

After doing some investigating and testing, I have come up with two other means to get IEC Journal email update notices. In the alternative – or at least initially to make sure you are getting the email updates after you sign up for at least one of the below services - you may just want to check the IEC web site, http://www.iecjournal.org/, every few days to see if there has been anything added.

There are two email update services to do this through: FeedBlitz and Google. For both services you have to create an account. You can use your government email address – you do not have to get a gmail email account with Google  – and then sign up to receive updates for "IEC Journal" (in quotation marks).

FeedBlitz: Go to: https://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Subscriptions. Select the phrase "Not registered? Click on Sign Up Here" and follow the instructions. After getting signed up you will get an email to acknowledge this to which you must send a confirming response. Then you will need to sign in again at https://www.feedblitz.com/f/f.fbz?Subscriptions. Click on Updates via Feedblitz, then click on Subscribe, and then type in http://www.iecjournal.org/ and hit subscribe. You will then get an acknowledgement email saying you are signed up for the "IEC Journal". You must also respond to this email confirming you want to get email updates to the IEC Journal. For more information on FeedBlitz see http://www.iecjournal.org/iec/about/

 

Google: Go to Google Alerts at http://www.google.com/support/alerts/ and create an alert for updates to "IEC Journal" IN QUOTES.

You may want to try both services and after a few weeks decide which system you like best and cancel the other.

There are probably other ways to accomplish the above, but I have found these two systems fairly easy to figure out and that they work well once you get everything set up. One can also use the above two systems to track other subject matters you want to be kept up to date on.

 

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

April 27, 2009

E-mail Echo Problems?

A few IEC members have reported problems receiving posts by e-mail, like this:

I would like to receive posts by e-mail. However, when I went to RssFwd to register, the web site stated it was closing down. Please advise how to receive information re your newsletter, meeting announcement, etc.

We've posted some troubleshooting tips over the past couple of years, and they should be accessible by looking through the archives of the "About" category in the left hand margin. The easiest solution may be to subscribe to a different free service. We have had good results with Feedblitz, which we have found to be reliable and technically superior in some ways to comparable free services.

The IEC does not control any of these free third party services, and has no control over their performance. With that understood, many members have found them very convenient.

If you would prefer to access IEC Journal information unfiltered by a third party, an RSS reader is an attractive alternative. It seems like every day more important web sites offer RSS feeds, with the most notable recent one being Recovery.gov. Check out the very top of the page on the right hand side. Our article How To Use RSS Feeds has tips on adopting this useful new tool.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 25, 2009

Better Art Work?

An IEC member suggests that artwork of some executive branch agency would be more appropriate than the Supreme Court picture in the upper left hand corner. The current photo is a royalty-free picture we happened to have handy when setting up this site five years ago, and it is certainly no artistic masterpiece. 

If you belive have a better royalty-free picture, by all means forward it to us using the Contact Us link at left. We can crop and resize photos, within limits.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 01, 2009

Fifth Birthday for the IEC Journal

February 1 is the fifth anniversary of the first IEC Journal posts. Thanks for the opportunity to provide this service to the federal ethics community.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

January 13, 2009

IT Department Blocking Access to IEC Journal?

One IEC member reports:

Beginning a couple weeks ago, my government computer no longer lets me visit the IEC website.  When I try to do so, my computer says:  “You are explicitly denied access to this website "http://www.iecjournal.org/" per local base policy..  Your request was denied because of its content categorization:  Blogs/Personal Pages.”   The good news is that I can still access the site from home.


Another IEC member had the same problem a few years ago. Some unsophisticated automated screening software occasionally identifies the IEC Journal as inappropriate for use on government computers. Similar automated software could also erroneously erase IEC Journal RSS feed e-mail echoes as spam. If you draw either type of error to the attention of a human being in your organization's IT department, they will usually correct the mistake rapidly. If they don't, you should raise the problem to their supervisor.

Of course, IEC members who have been improperly blocked won't be able to read this message, so please draw this solution to the attention of any colleagues you know who have been having problems.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

January 05, 2009

RSS to E-mail Services

We sometimes are asked if our failure to endorse the RSS feed-to-e-mail services mentioned at left is intended to discourage people from using them. We merely want to make sure everyone understands that these are independent services operated by third party businesses. If you find them more convenient than using an RSS reader or checking the web site every day, feel free to use them, but be aware that the IEC has no control over them, and is not responsible for any lapses in service. We provide information about them solely for the benefit of our users who do not use RSS readers and find it more convenient to receive updates by e-mail.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

January 01, 2009

Washington Post RSS Reader Review

A Washington Post article reviewed four RSS readers (sometimes referred to as "aggregators."  This popular type of software makes it easy to keep up with web sites  that have "RSS feeds."  This site's feed is located under the hypertext link "This Site's RSS Feed" at left.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

September 30, 2008

Continue Receiving Posts by E-mail? (Was: "Updating RSS Feeds")

Missing your e-mail fix of IEC Journal postings? There may be a reason.

As part of an upgrade of their system, RSS FWD (sometimes referred to as "RssFwd") sent out an e-mail last Friday (archived at their web site) announcing that subscribers would have to re-subscribe to their new system to continue receiving service. Learning that some users at his agency had mistakenly deleted the announcement e-mail as spam, the ever-alert Wayne Johnson drew the change to our attention.

As noted recently, IEC Journal recommends our users obtain updates via RSS readers. We do not endorse RSS FWD nor the similar service Feedblitz, but we provide information about them for the benefit of our users who find receiving updates by e-mail more convenient. We would prefer to operate our own mailing list, but resource constraints make it impractical at this time.

Some users have reported better satisfaction with the similar Feedblitz service (free, like RSS FWD). While we assume RSS FWD's service will improve as a result of their upgrade, those interested in exploring alternatives to RSS FWD may wish to experiment with Feedblitz. Our September 15 post has subscription information for both services. Let us know if you have feedback about either service you would like to share with other IEC members.

Again, thanks to Wayne for the tip. We live or die by the help from him and other unselfish IEC members.

Updated Oct. 1: A few small improvements, including more descriptive title.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

September 15, 2008

E-Mail Update Option Summary

A query from a new IEC member who had difficulty subscribing to our e-mail echo prompted the realization that an updated summary of subscription information is appropriate. First, though, a reminder:

The IEC Journal offers a free RSS feed. If you would like to receive instant updates whenever you want, the best option is to use an RSS reader. These programs will give you easy automatic updates of IEC Journal, and any other RSS-equipped web sites you choose, any time you want them. Alternatives are available:

E-mail Updates

The IEC does not presently operate an e-mail mailing list to notify members when new information is posted. Rather, we have suggested that members who want e-mail updates can use free third party e-mail "echo" services. Two such services are RssFwd and Feedblitz. We do not endorse either of these services, but note their availability for those who find them convenient.

These third party services "scrape" new postings off the web site by automated checking and then send an announcement by e-mail. These are free services, and they operate on their schedules, which may not be consistent. There is always some lag time between when we post something on the web site, and the time the echo services mail their announcements. For example, we posted a comment on outsourcing to the web site early one Tuesday morning. RssFwd sent its alert around 6:00 AM on Wednesday and FeedBlitz around 6:00 PM Wednesday.

Some users have reported trouble subscribing to RssFwd, and we have some troubleshooting tips for that service. If you are aware of an e-mail echo service better than Feedblitz and RssFwd, let us know and we will be glad to pass your recommendation along.

We would like to add an IEC-operated mailing list to our services, but it would require either:

  1. One or more volunteers to maintain the mailing list and manually send an e-mail each time the web site is updated.
  2. A volunteer with the technical knowledge needed to set up an automatic e-mail update procedure. This could be through scripting, or perhaps assisting in moving the web site from TypePad to another platform that supports automated e-mail echoes. We believe Movable Type offers this feature, and there are probably others.

If you have suggestions or would like to volunteer, we would love to hear from you.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

September 03, 2008

Web Site Searching Alternatives

While welcome and very effective overall, the recent upgrade of the OGE web site has a few downsides, including changing the links to many pages. Many older links no longer work. A workaround I sometimes use when searching the archives here at IEC Journal may also save time when searching the OGE site:

For example, for our September 1 post I needed to obtain the new address for the USOGE 2008 Schedule of Important Ethics Dates. When I entered the search term "Calendar" into the OGE web site's search engine, after some delay I eventually received the response "Your Search returned 367 Records." Making matters worse, the search engine displays only five "hits" at a time.

Scrolling through 73 screens of search results in search of the one page I needed was not an appealing prospect, so I went to Google and entered the following search request:

site:www.usoge.gov calendar

Bingo! The calendar I was looking for was at the top of the list of search results.

Adding "site:" to the front of the OGE web site address tells Google to restrict its search to only that site. You can test it yourself. The secret? Unlike old-style search engines, Google and its closest competitors use sophisticated techniques to rank search results by relevance. The page you are looking for is more likely to be closer to the top of the results list. 

This using-an-alternate-search-engine trick won't always work, but it's a big time saver when it does. I used to use it frequently at the Department of Justice web site before they upgraded their dedicated search engine. I use it at IEC Journal on the frequent occasions when this site's dedicated search engine isn't giving me the results I want.

I use Google only because I'm more familiar with it. However, you would probably get comparable results using the top Google competitors that also use sophisticated relevancy rankings. Check their documentation to see how they restrict searches to a particular site.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, OGE, Web Resources | Permalink

August 22, 2008

Getting In Touch With Us

An IEC member recently had trouble sending us an e-mail, possibly because her browser or e-mail program was not correctly configured. If your web browser and e-mail software are properly set up, then selecting the "Contact Us" or "Send Us Job Announcements" links in your web browser should cause your e-mail software to start a new message, addressed to us. If this does not work for you, you can use the following address to send general e-mail:

iecjournal123@yahoo.com

Use this address for job announcements:

iec.jobs@yahoo.com

These are "disposable" addresses; we'll change them if they begin attracting too much spam, and announce their replacements.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

August 12, 2008

VA OIG & Legal Times Lead Way on RSS Feeds

RSS adoption continues to increase in popularity. The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General web site includes a good explanation of RSS feeds, as well as links to explanations of how to use them generally and with the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers. Announcements of audits and reports are a great use for RSS, and the VA OIG deserves credit for making its information accessible to the public in this manner.

Law.com has a number of RSS feeds (including one for job announcements), and even provides a free RSS reader configured to pick up the most popular ones.

As noted previously, RSS feeds are the most convenient way to keep up with frequently-updated web sites that have adopted this new technology, including the IEC Journal. While dedicated RSS readers are probably more powerful than browser-based RSS access, browser-based access is better than no RSS access.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Inspectors General | Permalink

July 25, 2008

Submitting Job Announcements

We have set up a dedicated address for sending us job announcements:

iec.jobs@yahoo.com

It's also accessible via a hypertext link at left.

Thanks to Erica Dornberg for doing such a good job with these over the past few months.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About, Help Wanted | Permalink

July 17, 2008

Notification of IEC Journal Updates

We've received a couple of queries along these lines:

Seems like we have a 24 hour delay on the IEC web site for sending messages. Is something akilter?

The IEC Journal does not operate an e-mail mailing list to notify members when new information is posted. Rather, we have suggested that members who want e-mail updates can use free third party e-mail "echo" services (Feedblitz & RssFwd).

These third party services "scrape" new postings off the web site by automated checking and then send an announcement by e-mail. These are free services, and they operate on their schedules, which may not be consistent. There is always some lag time between when we post something on the web site, and the time the echo services mail their announcements. For example, we posted a comment on outsourcing to the web site early Tuesday morning. RssFwd sent its alert around 6:00 AM on Wednesday and FeedBlitz around 6:00 PM Wednesday.

If you are aware of an e-mail echo service better than Feedblitz and RssFwd, let us know and we will be glad to pass your recommendation along.

We are presently using TypePad to maintain the web site. This has many advantages, but it does not include a built-in option for a mailing list echo. We aware of a few ways we could add a mailing list, and our more technically-minded readers may know of some better methods. This could provide a few hours speedier delivery of update announcements, but the methods we are aware of would require added expense, and/or a little extra labor. If you have suggestions or would like to volunteer, we would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, if you would rather receive updates when you want, the best option is still to use an RSS reader. These programs will give you easy automatic updates of IEC Journal, and any other RSS-equipped web sites you choose, any time you want them.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

March 10, 2008

Alternative RSS-to-Email Service

During testing over the past few weeks we have found Feedblitz to be a very acceptable alternate to Rss_Fwd, discussed here previously as a way to automatically receive e-mails containing each post to this web site. Feedblitz is typically slower, sending the e-mails the day after they appear on the web site, but its formatting is better.

We offer these suggestions as a service to our readers. Using these free services has not resulted in a perceptible increase in spam nor other problem, but we do not endorse either provider.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

February 20, 2008

Fourth Birthday for IEC Journal

The month of February marks the fourth anniversary of the IEC Journal. We are gratified with the positive reception we have received, and have projects in mind which should increase our usefulness to the federal ethics community.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

January 04, 2008

Mailing List to Web Transition

As previously announced, as of this month, IEC announcements will be distributed through this web site. The IEC is no longer maintaining a manual mailing list, but those members who wish to receive an e-mail echo of all web site posts can sign up for a free third party service called RssFwd. The process was explained in our Nov. 13 post.

Troubleshooting RssFwd

A few members have had problems subscribing to RssFwd, which they were able to solve as follows:

A. Several members have encountered delays of several minutes and eventually receiving the error message "Server Not Found." This is the most common subscription problem encountered. The RssFwd service responds very slowly at times, and attempts to access the server "time out." This may be due to many people taking them up on their offer of free service. In any event, keep trying. Whatever the cause of the delays, it appears that users who have been patient have eventually been able to subscribe.

B. On trying to enter the URL www.iecjournal.org, one member received the error message: "Cannot find file. Make sure the path or the Internet address is correct." This was resolved by entering it with the letters "iec" on the end: www.iecjournal.org/iec

Our Nov. 23 post had some other troubleshooting tips. If you encounter some other problem, let us know, and we will attempt to help.

Alternatives to RssFwd

As explained previously, RssFwd is not a perfect solution. It's a free third party service, and the provider offers little or no technical support. Once the subscription difficulties mentioned above are overcome, the service seems to operate very reliably, though a few members have complained that the formatting of e-mails seems unnecessarily hard to read. While RssFwd is functional, we welcome suggestions as to better alternatives, preferably ones that will work with the IEC's non-existent budget.

Many IEC members may find a dedicated RSS reader preferable to the e-mail echo. Many are available. These are very useful, but have the drawback that you don't receive updates unless you remember to use them.

In response to our request for advice, Kevin O'Keefe, an expert on RSS use by lawyers, recommended an online RSS reader, Google Reader. It has the advantages of being:

  1. Free, and
  2. An online service (no need to download any software to your computer).

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

December 18, 2007

Reminder: Mailing List Change

As discussed at recent IEC meetings, as of January 1 the IEC will be transitioning from its present manually-maintained e-mail list to an e-mail echo of posts at this site. The mailing list has grown to about 500 members, and maintaining it is a burden on our volunteer officers. The IEC has no budget to pay for a professionally-maintained mailing list like those from companies like LSoft.com (owners of the brand name Listserv). If you want to stay on top of meeting announcements, job postings and other IEC-related information, after January 1 you will need to access the information at this site.

If you are already using an RSS reader, the best way is to add it to your RSS reader site list. If you will not be using an RSS reader, then we encourage you to subscribe to the e-mail echo as explained here previously.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 29, 2007

Army SOCO Web Site

We have updated our link to the OTJJAG [Army] Ethics Website. This site has a number of interesting resources that could be adapted for use by other agencies, including a PowerPoint slide show for training and Mark Stone's information paper on government employees writing letters of recommendation. The Ethics Counselor's Deskbook meets the usual high standard for products of the Army's Judge Advocate General's School in Charlottesville.

Please notify us if you are aware of other agency ethics web sites with valuable information.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 23, 2007

Responding to Reader Feedback

Here are responses to several reader comments:

A. High Praise Indeed

A Sunlight Foundation project, Realtime Investigations, referred to IEC Journal as "the invaluable blog devoted to developments in federal government ethics." Thanks!

B. Another Satisfied Customer

Another reader told us via e-mail: "You guys do such a great job, and always have such interesting items posted. I check the IEC website at least a couple of times a week and always learn something. Thanks!"

It's always nice to get compliments, but the best part was that the note included a suggested topic for an IEC Journal entry. We welcome your suggestions on topics, or anything else.

C. RSS Troubleshooting

Another reader asked about setting up an RSS reader. If you are having trouble, the first step is to make sure there's no confusion between the e-mail echo service we are using (RssFwd) and an RSS reader. As explained previously, the e-mail echo service "scrapes" the postings and redistributes them by e-mail. By contrast, an RSS reader is a separate, stand-alone program designed specifically for automatic collecting of RSS feeds from web site and formatting them for convenient reading. More explanation of RSS readers is available.

If your problem is with an RSS reader, the next troubleshooting step is to try using it with the RSS feed from some other web site. If it still won't work, the problem is probably with the newsreader software you have selected. Check the instructions or ask a tech-savvy friend for help. If you still can't figure it out, contact us and we will try to help. Tell us which software you are using, as there are hundreds of different newsreaders available.

Updated Nov. 26 for improved clarity.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 19, 2007

Error Message on Subscription?

A couple of people have reported receiving an error message ("cannot find server") when trying to subscribe to the IEC Journal e-mail echo by clicking on the link to RssFwd. I have not been able to replicate this error message, trying most recently this morning. However, the server has sometimes responded very slowly, so I suspect the error is transient. Try again at a different time and contact us if you continue to have problems with this free service.

Update: Edited 11/20 to improve clarity.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

November 13, 2007

Receiving IEC Journal Posts by E-mail

Subscribing to receive copies of IEC Journal posts by e-mail is a four step process:

1. Go to RssFwd.

2. When asked for the RSS feed, enter: http://www.iecjournal.org

3. Enter your e-mail address when requested.

4. Reply to the confirmation e-mail.

Notes:

RssFwd gives you options as to how e-mails are delivered to you. You can modify these when you initially subscribe or at any later time later through the "Manage your subscription" link at bottom of each e-mail. You can stop your subscription the same way.

Be aware that the e-mails received through this system are oddly formatted. Here's an example.

RssFwd is a free service that converts each new posting into an e-mail, and forwards it to your e-mail In Box automatically. There are a number of such free services. We have been using RssFwd since February 2007. Except for the odd formatting, it seems to reasonably work well, but we welcome your suggestions as to alternatives.

A more detailed explanation, with screen capture printouts, was distributed at the October and November IEC meetings.

In lieu of getting e-mail, some people may prefer to use a separate RSS reader program. These are much more efficient, but only if you use them to monitor multiple sites. Information on using RSS readers is available.

Thanks to Beverly Jordan for pointing out that our directions for subscribing to receive IEC Journal posts by e-mail could be improved.

Updated:
Our November 19 post had troubleshooting tips.
Also updated November 14 with various minor improvements.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink

September 22, 2007

Give Us Your Suggestions

Help us upgrade our search engine and e-mail echo services. IEC Journal is presently using free services from third parties Atomz.com and RssFwd to provide its search engine and e-mail echo of postings services.

Both ad-supported services work OK, but improvements are possible. Please let us know if you have suggestions for better search engines or e-mail echo services.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in About | Permalink