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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

It’s Not True That No One in Congress Takes Government Performance Seriously

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Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas

Henry Cuellar is more than a little delighted to talk about government performance and customer service. After all, it’s not every day the Texas Democrat is asked to expound on a subject that’s clearly near and dear to his heart. And since he’s not only the driving force behind the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, but a proud holder of a Ph.D. in government from the University of Texas, it’s not hard to get Cuellar to open up on efforts to improve federal agencies’ service to the public.

At the Government Executive/Nextgov Customer Experience Summit Tuesday, Cuellar made it clear he spends more time than the average person poking around on Performance.gov, the Obama administration’s repository of government performance data. (“You should get familiar with it,” he urged the audience. “Whenever you can’t sleep at night, go into Performance.gov and see how we’re doing.”)

Cuellar said the Office of Management and Budget and agencies have “done good work” in implementing GPRMA. He noted, for example, that OMB has reported $2 billion in savings under the contract consolidation effort known as category management.

Now, Cuellar said, government needs to take the next step of linking budget requests to performance, and fine-tuning its self-assessments. “We need to push ourselves a little bit more on measurements themselves,” he said. “We need to do better.”

In the area of customer service, he said, part of the problem is that federal labor unions have resisted legislative efforts to mandate improvements, arguing it’s not clear they’re necessary.

Cuellar also noted that agencies largely decide for themselves what customer data to collect, and don’t necessarily focus on the most important measures. He singled out the Transportation Security Administration, saying the agency only measures customer satisfaction on its Pre-Check expedited screening program, not its standard screening efforts, which have come under fire in recent weeks due to long lines at airport security checkpoints. (The agency also collects and reports data on wait times at airports.)

Cuellar urged federal officials to study performance improvement efforts at the state and local level, and pledged to support efforts to improve service to citizens.

“We’re all here to do the right thing,” he said.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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