Much has been made of the Pew report released over the weekend that shows a distressing drop in trust in many government agencies from 1997-1998 and 2010. But the agency that made the biggest gains, the Internal Revenue Service, might surprise some people. At Fedline, Tom Spoth speculates it's because the IRS was starting from such a dramatic low that improvement was inevitable, and that tax-prep software has softened animosity towards the agency.
But I think it's simpler than that. Of the agencies on Pew's list, it's unlikely that the average citizen will either have direct contact, or recognize that they've been directly affected by, the Education Department, the Food and Drug Administration, NASA, the Centers for Disease Control, the Justice Department, the FBI, or the CIA. On the other hand, there's a good chance that a lot of Americans will have direct contact with the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or the Veterans Affairs Department. Their impressions of the former will, as a result, be shaped by the media, be it news or fiction, by politicians, and by shifting opinions around them. That doesn't mean that the results of the survey for those agencies aren't important--they say a lot about agencies' brands. But the results for agencies that have a lot of contact with individual Americans say more about how those agencies are doing at providing services and working with their customers.