Raising the Bar for Transparency and Customer Service

Yesterday, the House passed the Government Customer Service Improvement Act, H.R. 538, by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish standards and performance measures for the customer service that federal agencies provide to the public. Federal agencies' customer service performance ratings would be reported publicly, and each agency would be required to collect and publish feedback from citizen customers. This would advance government openness and could improve government performance.

The bill would encourage the staff at public agencies to be more responsive to citizens. For example, the bill might require the Social Security Administration to measure its response times to citizen queries about benefits and/or check with them to see if the answers provided were adequate and helpful. As the Partnership for Public Service highlighted, "Publicizing data on the quality of federal agency customer service will shine a spotlight on agencies that are struggling and highlight best practices at agencies that excel."

The requirement to solicit customer feedback would reinforce similar directives under the new Digital Government Strategy. Citizen feedback can reveal problems with government information services, including problems with tools like USAspending.gov that are supposed to make it easier for citizens to use public information , and to encourage improvements in such tools.

Better customer service might even foster greater public engagement. Research has linked good customer satisfaction with higher trust in government. In turn, trust has been associated with increased levels of civic participation.

The bill echoes President Obama's April 2011 executive order on customer service, and builds on the measurement and reporting requirements established under Cuellar's 2010 performance bill. A companion bill, S. 3455, is pending consideration in the Senate.

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