Links to other articles in this series are included below. — Editors
By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
GOLDEN, Colo. — The Department of Energy allows its employees to use government phones and computers to access personal social media accounts while on the job, setting the stage for a staffer who threatened murder against Watchdog’s Colorado office while at work.
In fact, the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado has extensive written policies devoted exclusively to social media policies, detailing behavior, etiquette and government confidentiality issues that employees should follow when tweeting, posting on Facebook or blogging.
Watchdog.org obtained a series of social media documents from the DOE along with a 31 pages of a manual, “NREL Cyber Security Standard” as part of a Freedom of Information Act request filed in cooperation with Judicial Watch.
NREL spokesman George Douglas previously had refused to hand over the documents, stating that NREL is not a government organization because it is managed by a nonprofit organization.
“NREL’s social media policy is an internal document and not shared outside the organization,” Douglas said.
However, NREL was created during the Carter administration to invent energy alternatives and operates with DOE funding. Workers’ email addresses have a .gov suffix.
But unlike many organizations in the private sector, employees are not only allowed to use social media at work — they are encouraged to do it.
“Social media sites provide opportunities for workers to interact, brainstorm, explore ideas, and encourage or challenge peers and can support the activities of discovering, innovating, collaborating, disseminating, and learning,” the policy states.
That policy went awry back in November when lab worker Kerrilee Crosby, 34, tweeted death threats to Watchdog reporters while on the job. She had become incensed over a Watchdog investigation that revealed her boss’ $1 million-per-year government salary and tweeted:
Watchdog responded on Twitter, asking her why she advocated mass murder given the shootings at Columbine High School and an Aurora movie theater. Crosby again tweeted while at work: “Because you deserve to die” and, “I DO! Especially since you are next door! I can’t remember where I left my gun, though. Found it!”
Another tweet soon followed: “GUNS FOR SALE! @WatchdogCO”
Crosby, who ranted under the moniker @crosbolicious, switched her Twitter account to private when Watchdog tracked her back to NREL and called its spokesperson for comment. A few weeks ago, Crosby deleted her @crosbolicious account all together and it is unknown if she now tweets under another name.
NREL spokesman George Douglas told Watchdog that Crosby would be investigated for possible violation of its social media policies.
On Dec. 20, he told Watchdog that Crosby was no longer an employee. This was two weeks after Douglas stated: “The person who wrote the tweets in question is employed at NREL in a non-supervisory staff position. Her opinions do not represent those of the Laboratory. She has been found in violation of NREL’s policy on social networking and appropriate action is being taken.”
NREL’s social media policy is silent on the issue of employee conduct pertaining to their personal phones and computers. Douglas said he did not know whether Crosby used personal or work equipment to make her threats.
Regardless, the policy is clear on the type of behavior tolerated by NREL employees:
“Social media technologies can be used for work and personal use as long as within standards,” the manual stated. “Do not engage in ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in NREL’s workplace.
“Be cordial, honest, and professional at all times,” the manual said.
It added that employees should “Identify themselves by name and, when relevant, their role at NREL when they discuss NREL or NREL-related matters. … Inappropriate behavior related to social media is subject to appropriate disciplinary actions, up to and including involuntary termination.”
Workers also are allowed to use NREL equipment for other personal Internet activities such as banking, checking email and web surfing, the manual stated.
Contact Tori Richards at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles in this series:
Secret energy lab spawns million-dollar government employee (Nov. 24, 2012)
‘Murderous rampage’: Gov’t lab worker threatens reporters (Dec. 12, 2012)
SPECIAL: Watchdog’s 25 scariest people, version 2012 (Dec. 24, 2012)
Murderous rampage worker eyed by cops, off job (Dec. 21, 2012)
Worker exploits lax DOE policy to send threats (Feb. 11, 2013)