Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Will feds soon be asking their customers if they are satisfied with the service they’ve received?

Following the customer service initiatives launched by Gore’s reinventing government team in the 1990s, the federal government has waxed and waned on the importance of customer service in the course of serving the public.  Now that citizen satisfaction with government services is under 20 percent, a new law may turbo charge the emphasis if it is passed, since it would tie customer service to employees’ performance ratings.


A bill by Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar to require agencies to set customer service standards passed the House in 2007.  But the bill died in the Senate, in part because of union concerns that employees would be held accountable in their personnel ratings for the quality of customer service, but there were fears that they wouldn’t be given the level of staffing or training to be successful.

GAO examined the issue in a 2010 report and found these concerns were unfounded.  Congressman Cuellar reintroduced the legislation in early 2011. In the meanwhile, President Obama issued an executive order in April 2011, directing agencies to develop customer service plans.  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) drafted guidanceand created a Customer Service Task Force to bring agencies together to identify best practices and review each others plans.  Here’s a link to all agency customer service plans. It’s worth looking at each agency’s “signature initiative” to improve customer service.  For example, USDA’s conservation service is streamlining its internal processes to free up the time of conservationists so they can increase the amount of time they spend in the field with customers from 20 percent of their time to 75 percent of their time!

Cuellar’s bill remained dormant until this past week when it was reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a rare case of bipartisanship.

The Bill

There are four key elements in the bill (H.R. 538; note:  the amended version passed by the committee has not yet been posted to the website, but should be soon):

  • OMB will develop “performance measures to determine whether federal agencies are providing high-quality customer service and improving service delivery to their customers,” and set standards for customer service.
  • The standards would be based on customer feedback collected by federal agencies, which they will report annually via their GPRA performance reports.
  • Each agency would designate a “customer relations representative” responsible for implementing that agency’s standards.
  • “Compliance with customer service standards developed under this Act shall be an element of the performance appraisal systems” in each agency.

The bill also notes that these initiatives would be funded from existing budgets, that no new funds would be made available.