First he co-founded Young Government Leaders, a membership organization. He tried launching groups on MySpace and LinkedIn, but didn’t feel he was creating great connections. And then he hit on the idea: “I thought there should be a social network for government.” GovLoop was born.
It started with happy hour. Steve Ressler was working for the Department of Homeland Security in an office with a lot of other young people when he saw a need: a way for government workers to come together informally and compare notes. And so they began meeting after hours. Word spread, and soon professionals from several agencies were showing up.
“We were all working on similar issues and could learn something from each other,” said Ressler. “As opposed to working at Coke or Pepsi, where they’re not going to do that, government people are open to sharing.”
“GovLoop was simply an idea, my hobby, something I worked on from 5:00 to 9:00 at Starbucks. First we had one member, then five, then 10, then 1,000 and then 10,000, and it became something real,” said the Penn graduate. Today, GovLoop has 10 fulltime employees and 100,000 members, and is seen as the primary vehicle for government workers to converse on a part-social, part-professional level. It hosts discussion groups and blogs, posts jobs, offers career advice and a mentoring program. One of its discussion groups, GovGourmet, features recipes and a lively discussion of restaurants. Virtual summits tackle issues of a decidedly more serious nature: how to securely deploy open-source software, and data-driven citizen engagement, just to name two.
GovLoop also is looked to for taking the pulse of the sector. Its recent survey of public-service professionals asked how they see work life changing, with 66 percent reporting that they currently telework at least once per month—seven percent doing so full-time. Half of the workforce could be teleworking by 2020, but, the report found: “Unsurprisingly, respondents cited old-school mindsets among managers, a lack of trust for teleworkers and slow technology implementation as major barriers to telework implementation.”
GovLoop is uniquely equipped to conduct this kind of information-gathering across agencies, Ressler says. “I see it as part of the solution revolution, where third parties are solving government problems. We work toward making government better, but from the outside.”
Now he, too, is on the outside. After founding GovLoop in 2008, Ressler oversaw its acquisition by GovDelivery, a St. Paul-based government communications firm, and left his government job to continue with GovLoop as fulltime CEO. The company does not receive any government funding, but rather accepts advertising and underwriting, and today counts itself as a successfully growing business.
In addition to the utilitarian aspects to GovLoop, Ressler says there is a “cultural piece” that connects members. “Most people who come into public service do it for a reason—you have some desire to make government better or work on some important issue. There is this common bond. For instance, with the sequester you will see the public and media badmouthing public sector members, and it’s a pretty old-fashioned and inaccurate stereotype–this image of an unhappy DMV worker.”
Ressler knows something about the kind of workers who keep government humming. He is a third-generation public-sector employee, having spent six years in the Social Security Administration and the Department of Education, as well as at the Department of Homeland Security in the Office of the Inspector General and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He earned his master’s degree from Penn in Sociology, where he received the Department of Homeland Security Fellowship. The reality, he says, is that many government workers hold advanced degrees as well as a commitment to making government work better—something GovLoop can help encourage. “Regardless of your politics, don’t you want smart, talented, hardworking people working to make your country safer in Homeland Security or making schools better?”
Ressler would like to see GovLoop increase its scale, boosting membership to 500,000, enabling it to “deliver resources so people can do their jobs better in tough budget times.” Online training is a particularly promising area, he notes, given tight travel budgets.
If stealing is the sincerest form of flattery, Ressler can take a bow. Government workers in Australia, Brazil and Israel have adopted the GovLoop format. “It’s been kind of fun to see the idea grow. Every day I get a random inquiry from someone doing something in a different country. This idea of connecting is pretty powerful.”
University of Pennsylvania - Arts & Sciences - 2004
- Master of Arts
- Major(s): Sociology