WH elevates federal customer experience

GettyImages/ Rudy Sulgan

A Biden administration executive order aims to use tech to simplify and reduce friction in citizen interactions with government programs and services.


President Biden signed an executive order this week aimed at improving the federal government’s service delivery to Americans.

The White House said that the order will create a “sustained, cross-government service delivery process” aligned with specific life moments like retirement where Americans interact with government services.

For the Biden administration, improved customer service (CX) means eliminating friction from government interactions ranging from filing a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service to paying taxes. The White House says “modernizing programs, reducing administrative burdens, and piloting new online tools and technologies that can provide a simple, seamless, and secure customer experience” are part of the CX effort.

At a signing ceremony in the Oval Office on Monday, Biden said that officials tend to assume that people understand how the bureaucracy works. "But it’s really a very complicated web for the vast majority of people, whether they have PhDs or high school education,” Biden said. "And so today, I'm signing an executive order to ensure...that the federal government puts you, the American people, at the front of the line.”

These efforts build on the administration’s commitment to customer experience improvements signaled in its “vision” for the management agenda, which also identified workforce and the business of the federal government as priority areas.

The executive order will include both specific action items - 36 “commitments” across 17 agencies - and kick off government-wide efforts to improve service delivery by organizing efforts around key “life experiences,” Jason Miller, Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters in a call previewing the order.

Speaking about efforts to organize services that might span across agencies but center on one experience, like poverty, Miller said that citizens should have a “simple and seamless” process.

“We’re one enterprise and we should operate accordingly,” he continued.

Miller told reporters that the specific action items in the order are “near-term in nature, meaning that they will generally be completed in the coming months, within one year.”

The order also includes a list of specific “high-impact service providers” in government identified because of the volume and type of services they deliver. They’ll be subject to certain performance measurements and improvement plans.

These include General Services Administration's USA.gov; the Office of Personnel Management’s retirement services and federal employment services; the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration, among others.

One thing to look for is a redesign of USA.gov, an existing website run by the General Services Administration meant to help direct citizens to government services. The site will be reimagined as a “centralized and streamlined ‘digital Federal front door’ so the public can get access to all government benefits, services, and programs in just 1 to 3 clicks, taps, or commands from the USA.gov homepage, without navigating duplicate and outdated federal websites.”

Retirees can look forward to claiming benefits online; Medicare recipients will find new to online tools to manage their healthcare; passport renewal will go online and student loan borrowers will find a new streamlined payment portal.

There’s also a focus on streamlining processes.

The White House says that the order will help people enroll in benefits and recertify income status with “direct certification,” which “automatically certifies income-eligible individuals without extra paperwork, instead of managing multiple, complicated processes that waste time and cause frustration.”

There will also be a new focus on a “no-wrong door” approach for people that might be interacting with multiple government programs at once, the White House says, where “interacting with one federal program can help get them connected with other benefits and streamline enrollment for which they are eligible.”

The White House’s fact sheet also points to VA benefits.

Veterans and service members will be able to use Login.gov to access the VA, which will remove “outdated and duplicate VA.gov sign in options.” Instead, services will be available online in “a single, integrated, and fully inclusive digital platform on VA.gov and a flagship VA mobile application,” the White House says.

The White House also flagged the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, meant to offer loan forgiveness to public servants after a certain number of years of service. The executive order will mean less paperwork for applicants, the White House says.

Miller told reporters that the specific action items in the order are meant to be done with “existing resources.”

“So this may be existing agency resources, existing capabilities that we can bring to bear, whether that’s from [U.S. Digital Service] or [General Services Administration], including resources from recent legislation to support improvements in service delivery,” he said.

Neera Tanden, senior advisor to the president, told reporters that USDS would be a “significant asset” to agencies, and also said that the group has seen a bump in resources through “various budget processes.”

Clare Martorana, federal CIO, and USDS administrator Mina Hsiang also released a joint blog post on the order, saying that they'll guide the creation of a "cross-government service delivery framework that is secure by design, more seamless for agencies to share information digitally, and makes it easier for the public to interact with government."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations of the House Oversight Committee who has led efforts around legislation on government services and customer experience, praised the order.

“With trust in government at an all-time low, it is crucial that the administration and Congress work together to improve how the public interacts and receives services from the federal government,” said Connolly in a statement. “Government services should be human-centered and minimize complexity and administrative burden and costs... President Biden’s EO advances the opportunity for federal agencies to deliver a world-class customer experience and ultimately improve trust in government.”

Ross Nodurft, executive director of the Alliance for Digital Innovation, said of the order that the alliance supports the focus on customer experience, which should be a “core part” of modernization efforts in government.

Nodurft also pointed to the Integrated Digital Experience Act, which set usability standards for government websites and digital services but has seen little implementation since its passage in 2018. Fulfilling this law would be a “foundational step and key enabler of the requirements outlined in the EO,” he said.

A version of this article was published first on FCW, a FederalSoup partner site.

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