Practices and rules for federal government staff who edit on work time

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Workspace: Public policy

Government agency staff can be ideal Wikipedians -- expert and capable of writing neutrally about a subject. Through Wikipedia we can inform our citizens and put our expertise to use on their behalf, in principle, but statistical agency policies do not encourage/permit logging in to outside systems or speaking publicly.

Any such policy at an agency should be compatible with Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest guidelines on editing on behalf of an employer or other cause.

Here we list what federal agencies do and support regarding edits to Wikipedia in work contexts.

National Institutes of Health

NIH allows employees to edit Wikipedia, and has a publicly stated policy on this: See Guidelines for Participating in Wikipedia from NIH. Quoting from it:

There is a real opportunity to strengthen this public resource. . . . We hope these guidelines will help you to become part of a unique opportunity in keeping with the NIH’s history of making credible, vetted, authoritative information available to the public. The time spent can be minimal, but the impact could be great. Information you have already developed that might benefit scientists or the public worldwide could be put up in a few minutes

Policy (compressed and paraphrased):

  • NIH scientists and health and science writers can contribute to Wikipedia within their own fields -- not other fields, on government time, though on personal time of course this okay.
  • Claims should be sources/footnoted/cited, and it is good to seize opportunities to cite NIH work.
  • Edits to the articles on NIH programs should be approved through the appropriate communication officer (not be edited ad hoc by anyone from NIH).
  • Time spent on Wikipedia entries should be predetermined and approved by the immediate supervisor.
  • NIH staff may only share information that is in the public domain and contribute factual information not opinion, and avoid discussions of policy.

Some NIHers were trained to edit Wikipedia in July, 2009.[1][2] From Wired's coverage:

To open-government avocates, NIH's move represents an important step toward recognizing how to reach people online. "NIH could have gone the typical route and warned the public against using unreliable sources for information, but they get it: That's not going to happen," wrote Matthew Burton at the Personal Democracy Forum. "Wikipedia is going to stay popular, so its vital that it provides correct information."[3]

Another commentator critized this move, saying it was a slippery slope and that government employee editing of Wikipedia articles on Guantanamo Bay and the Iraq War had been problematic in the past; there appeared to be conflicts of interest, evidence was removed, and the articles were changed to be misleading. No source for this example was cited.[4]

NIHers and others collaborate on Wikipedia pages through the Wikipedia WikiProject NIH. NIH also has a policy that NIH-funded research is made available freely to the public in PubMed a year after publication.[5].

Environmental Protection Agency

EPA has internal guidance on how to "represent the agency online", and it is implied that employees putting professional content on Wikipedia is in that frame. As we understand it, in general the employees must obtain their supervisors' approval representing the agency online, and avoid opining on behalf of the agency outside their job role. They should properly support and site their claims when acting in an official capacity. Editing non-EPA wikis, like Wikipedia, is permitted if supervisors approve, supporting sources are identified for factual statements, the employee's EPA affiliation is identified, and the office's Web Content Coordinator is notified. Work with communications directors and public affairs directors before expressing opinions or op-eds.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

BLS does not have a generally known, regularized way to get permission to edit Wikipedia on work time or to treat it as work product (for public education, data dissemination, scientific purposes, nor as public relations). (It is possible, but not clear, that an employee is allowed to edit Wikipedia as a personal matter using work time and computers.) Policy proposals were developed by a large internal Social Media Team in late 2010. Most of the proposals were not put into action, apparently because of disagreements related to the Department of Labor's Social Media Policy which requires centralized approvals of posted content, and may have wanted it branded to the Department not the Bureau. Tweeting of news releases was allowed again after former Commissioner Keith Hall testified to the House Government Oversight committee on how the rules preventing it violated OMB policy. (For more detail, ask User:Econterms.)

NARA (National Archives and Record Administration)

w:NARA has a Wikipedian-in-residence, starting summer 2011 -- Dominic McDevitt-Parks.

NARA has an officially collaborative project with Wikipedia's project GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) -- posting photos, videos, etc. It is described including citations to press coverage at Wikipedia's project pages for GLAM/NARA.[6] At events at NARA, Wikipedia volunteers sometimes scan photos or documents for uploading to Wikipedia Commons, or transcribe some holdings through the Wikisource project and technology.[7]

From Dominic McDevitt-Parks:

Relevant publications by or about NARA:


HHS has guidelines on Wikipedia that go back to 2012, possibly derived from NIH's:

State Department

Permits personal editing of Wikipedia (and other "social media" sites) on work time. The key official statement of this is section section 5 FAM 790 of the w:Foreign Affairs Manual.


w:NOAA does (or did) have an approach to permission, and officially made changes: -- yay!!!


w:NASA is not known to have an official policy or collaboration but several proposals have been made:

Internal Revenue Service

The w:IRS has a standard policy allowing de minimis use of government equipment for personal use, and Wikipedia-editing occurs in that context at least. Wikipedia edits can also serve as evidence of writing experience in a personnel evaluation.

Dept of Interior

DOI has rules that make it possible to edit wikipedia, in their Social Media handbook ( They give an example of the w:USGS, perhaps posting expert knowledge.

Possible suggestions to agencies

  • Opinion: Part of the mission of many government agencies is to inform the public. Editing Wikipedia is an efficient way to do this. Costs are low. Wikipedia articles are sometimes more important than an organization's home page and implicitly good information on Wikipedia helps the agency by improving the public's understanding and reducing questions posed directly to the agency which take time to answer. Participation in wiki communities also is a form of scanning the environment for information the agency can use to improve its public service, by creating or changing products, applying new methods, and observing developments that the agencies should report on. (Noveck, 2009; OMB 2009; NAPA 2009; BLS Strategic Plan 2010).
  • It seems that NIH and EPA have well specified approaches of achieving these goals, and the encouragement and constraints they put on editing Wikipedia from work are good examples of practice.
  • Statipedia is a convenient place to jointly develop articles to later put on Wikipedia.
  • (Peter, see own notes on Statipedia for recommended agency policy.)


  1. Garnett, Carla. Sept 4, 2009. NIH, Wikipedia Join Forces to Improve Online Health Info, NIH Record.
  2. Wikipedia project page: Wikipedia:Academy/NIH 2009
  3. Madrigal, Alexis. July 21, 2009. Teaches NIH Scientists Wiki Culture, Wired (Wired Science), citing Burton, Matthew. "Wikipedia Reaches Out to NIH (and vice versa)" Personal Democracy Forum, blog post July 19, 2009.
  4. Strother, Roger. "NIH to Edit Wikipedia -- A Slippery Slope?" OMB Watch July 28, 2009.
  6. GLAM/NARA project pages at Wikipedia. Press coverage is listed and hyperlinked.
  7. Partnership for Public Service; Booz Allen Hamilton. Jan 2013. #ConnectedGov: Engaging Stakeholders in the Digital Age page 16-17.