People are scared that they can't speak freely anymore. Or as freely, which is just as bad but more subtle.
I have actually had people tell me on the phone, "I can't say what I am thinking out loud," i.e. because "they" are listening and you work for government. (I always say, "they know me already," i.e. that I am a free thinker, yes, but not a subversive.)
Colleagues have said, "Don't tell anyone, but my family likes Sarah Palin." (I like Sarah Palin and admire public servants from every side of the spectrum. One of my best friends is a super-liberal-progressive Democrat. And if you are curious, I am a libertarian.)
In discussions, there comments where people take the time to say," Don't accuse me of being unpatriotic." (I always apologize if I gave that impression.)
Of course they are scared.
Remember that remark about the "vast right-wing conspiracy?" (There are always remarks about conspiracies.)
There are daily scary headlines about the "surveillance state" and such.
Jokes on the Tonight Show.
The TV news the other day reported on how government employees are being encouraged to report on their colleagues.
And of course there is the issue of freedom of the press: The Associated Press. James Rosen, Sharyl Attkisson. Conspiracy theories about the deaths of Andrew Breitbart and Michael Hastings.
I am a simple person, I'll admit. But I know that in the absence of data, superstition and fear run wild. It is an evolutionary response.
I know that government gets embarrassed easily and communicating technical information is hard, especially when some key data can't be shared.
But is it too simple to suggest that the government create a "Rumor Central" bulletin board? Where the public can submit their questions and get a response when the volume gets high enough?
The TSA has done a great job with their blog addressing public concerns when controversial security measures were implemented. Why can't the entire government do the same? (Why did DHS buy all that ammunition awhile back?) I would like to better understand and I am a sympathetic audience, having worked there for many years.
In fact every government agency I know of is full of very good and dedicated people who actually do care about doing a good job with integrity. This is the vast majority.
While it's true we should not legitimize purely hostile views by giving them a platform, I think most people (including government employees) are simple like me. They just want the facts, they request an explanation.
And the truth is, sometimes as they say, "mistakes were made." Even doozies. The more upfront you are the more people can handle it.
In the rush to get the work of government done, particularly in lean budgetary times, we are prone to forget the basics. Including the fact that simply addressing people's concerns - building that trust and rapport - is one of our most important jobs of all.
* All opinions my own.