OMB: Social network polls, rankings 'should not be used as the basis for policy'

Perhaps few would argue with Sunstein's characterization that one Facebook poll hardly doubles as a scientific sample of the entire country. But the OIRA chief's comment in Wednesday's memo may shock some of the open government community's most vocal proponents, who regard social networks as precisely the best source for public policy input.

Still, Sunstein's memo, issued as part of the Office of Management and Budget's required look at federal information practices, hardly discourages federal agencies from using social media. Rather, the OIRA guidance merely clarifies how federal officials should balance current law with President Barack Obama's calls for more online interaction with voters.

Part of Sunstein's latest memo clears up a litany of ambiguities stemming from the long-standing Paperwork Reduction Act, which typically requires agencies to spend months obtaining approval before launching information collection efforts, especially online.

The new OIRA guidance liberates top federal officials for many of those requirements as they relate to social media. Now, for example, agencies do not need OMB approval to create simple Web forms that allow users to register with their sites, among other changes.