Government Job Profile: Public Information Officer

These communications officials keep the information flowing

Jay Carney Briefs The Press At The White House
••• Pete Marovich / Stringer / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Public information officers are government employees responsible for creating and enabling communication between the government organization and both the news media and general public.

These communications officials tend to work in the upper levels of an organization, at all levels of government. Divisions within government organizations such as police and fire departments may have their own public information officers distinct from those that serve the rest of the agency.

It's up to these officers to make sure any statements released to the press and the public follow agency guidelines, are accurate and are in keeping with official policy or laws.

How Public Information Officers Work

Federal, state and local government agencies have critical information that they need to get to the general public. They disseminate the information through a variety of strategies. 

Most communication plans include using news media, via press conferences or press releases. By informing the press, public information officers take advantage of the media outlets’ distribution networks. 

A career as a public information officer is often stressful, but with the stress comes excitement. Public information officers are in the thick of the action during a crisis. Because they frequently work with reporters, public information officers sometimes feel the tension of the reporters’ deadlines.

How Public Information Officers Are Hired

Hiring managers seek public information officer candidates who have strong interpersonal, organizational, problem-solving, research, speaking and writing skills. Public information officers are selected through the normal government hiring processes.

In addition to the position’s direct manager, an interview panel may include executives because the person selected to fill the position will work with executives under stressful circumstances.

For organizations that have their public information staff in front of television cameras on a regular basis, those organizations might include some sort of on-camera simulation, to see how candidates handle the pressure of answering questions.

Key Duties of Public Information Officers

The public information officer is often the face of the organization in the absence of an elected leader taking the stage. Even when an elected official is out in front of the cameras, the public information officer is working behind the scenes writing speeches, gathering information and working with other officials to plan what the organization will do next and how information will be handled.

Public information officers spend much of their time working with the media. They write press releases hoping that media outlets will publish them as-is or use them as a jumping off point for researching a story. Public information officers often take phone calls and emails from reporters asking them to clarify or expand on the contents of a press release.

Education Needed for Public Information Officers

A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college is required for most public information officer jobs. Public information officers typically have degrees in journalism, communications, public relations, English or business. For positions that supervise a group of public information officers, several years of experience is also required, either in another public relations position or another public information officer role.