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Five Ways to Reform Government With a Focus on the Customer

President Trump’s executive order on reorganizing government and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget require agencies to develop proposals to make government lean, accountable and efficient, and to improve customer experience.

These directives offer agencies a chance to reexamine how they deliver services to the public, and are an opportunity to develop proposals to ensure intuitive online interactions, cut red tape that frustrates citizens, simplify burdens on federal employees, and use customer feedback more effectively.

The following five tips can help agencies as they develop proposals to cut costs, improve performance and serve the public better.     

1. Consolidate and integrate duplicative customer touch points, such as websites and contact centers. OMB’s guidance calls for agencies to restructure and merge activities to improve the efficiency, timeliness and quality of services. Agencies should address the fact that citizens interacting with government often must navigate a maze of different, and often duplicative contact points to obtain information and services. For example, at one time, the Veterans Affairs Department had nearly 1,000 toll-free telephone numbers and an even higher number of websites for veterans.

Consolidating websites and contact centers can make it easier for citizens to receive services, and...

Studies Find High Achievers Underestimate Their Talents, While Underachievers Overestimate Theirs

One day in 1995, a large, heavy middle-aged man robbed two Pittsburgh banks in broad daylight. He didn’t wear a mask or any sort of disguise. And he smiled at surveillance cameras before walking out of each bank. Later that night, police arrested a surprised McArthur Wheeler. When they showed him the surveillance tapes, Wheeler stared in disbelief. ‘But I wore the juice,’ he mumbled. Apparently, Wheeler thought that rubbing lemon juice on his skin would render him invisible to videotape cameras. After all, lemon juice is used as invisible ink so, as long as he didn’t come near a heat source, he should have been completely invisible.

Police concluded that Wheeler was not crazy or on drugs – just incredibly mistaken.

The saga caught the eye of the psychologist David Dunning at Cornell University, who enlisted his graduate student, Justin Kruger, to see what was going on. They reasoned that, while almost everyone holds favourable views of their abilities in various social and intellectual domains, some people mistakenly assess their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. This ‘illusion of confidence’ is now called the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’, and describes the cognitive bias to inflate self-assessment.


To fix Infrastructure, Fix the Budget Scoring Process

Last fall I led an effort, co-sponsored by the Urban Land Institute and the National Council for Public Private Partnerships, to figure out the best way to leverage public private partnerships, or P3s, to invest in infrastructure. What we found (described in our report, Enabling Infrastructure Investment: Leveling the Playing Field for Federal Real Property) is instructive. Given that we are wrapping up what the Trump administration has deemed Infrastructure Week, perhaps our findings can inform the White House and Congress on the best ways to encourage effective partnerships.

Infrastructure financing is complicated. For starters, the definition of infrastructure itself is open to debate, and there are shelves of reports on the state of disrepair of some of our critical systems. Multiple congressional committees have jurisdiction over a sprawling set of programs, subsidies and credit facilities. One of the main problems with our national infrastructure financing regime is its very complexity. However, we explored another frequently cited concern: the budgetary or “scoring” treatment of these investments—particularly federal real property investments.

Scoring has become a popular topic recently because of the health care debate. But scoring rules have an impact on federal investments and programs in many less visible but...

Documenting Conversations With Your Boss Can Be Smart

When former FBI director James Comey testifies before the US Senate today (June 8), he’ll be relying on the meticulous notes he kept of his interactions with president Donald Trump.

Careful documentation of meetings via notes and memos is part of the FBI’s culture (paywall), but there are sound reasons for ordinary workers to at least consider doing the same when we talk to our bosses. Taking notes—or better, recording conversations in states where its legal—is sound practice for employees who feel their managers are doing something inappropriate.

The notes or recordings are particularly valuable in situations where it’s an employee’s word against their boss’s, such as in sexual-harassment cases, said Randi Melnick, an employment law attorney. In an arbitration hearing or court case, where senior executives are seen to have more credibility, proof of misbehavior can even the scales.

“If John asks me on a date every time he comes into my office, and I press ‘record’ every time he comes in, that’s a pretty smart move,” Melnick said.

With the increased attention paid to harassment at work, and the ease of recording conversations surreptitiously on smartphones, it’s a strategy...

Government Isn't Just Another Brand To Be Marketed

Recently an interesting debate arose over the fundamental meaning of branding.

The context was a call for volunteers to help with the user interface of the Good Country, a project aimed at making the world more habitable for all.

Conceptually, here’s how it works: participants get to “vote” on the elections taking place in other countries. Given the opportunity to weigh in on another nation’s governance, they presumably would take the time to actually learn about those countries, form educated opinions, and become more aware of how one nation’s actions affect the others. (See the TED Talk.)

The project's founder, Simon Anholt, is known for the concept of “nation branding,” also known as “place branding,” which seeks to enhance the images of nations or places much the way companies try to bolster the reputations of their products. Nonetheless, Anholt does not view the Good Country as a branding effort.

A policy advisor, Anholt divorced his project from the concept of branding because he sees the latter as an activity related to image, whereas policy has to do with substance:

“My belief, backed up by much research (nearly 400 billion data points from 10 years of the...