Poll: Americans have lackluster view of government

Most Americans have a neutral to negative opinion of federal agencies, according to a Gallup poll released on Monday.

The poll, conducted during the summer, asked more than 40,000 Americans to rate their individual experience with federal agencies to understand the public's overall perception of government. Nearly half (46 percent) viewed agencies neutrally, while 34 percent reported negative opinions and 20 percent said they viewed government in a positive light. The military fared better than the civilian agencies. Seventy-eight percent of Americans have a favorable view of the services, while 20 percent of respondents expressed a similar view of other federal agencies.

The results raise questions about how agencies can measure performance and improve customer service. The poll found that the most important factor in the public's satisfaction is an agency's ability to resolve problems reasonably. Other categories included, "Willing to work with me," and "Delivers on promises."

"Participation and feedback of the public in their roles as customers, when there is interaction, and as the owners of government, is absolutely critical to health and success," said Patricia McGinnis, former president of the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government. "Public trust and confidence in leaders and institutions actually provides the political capital needed to make hard, tough decisions for long-term improvements in government performance."

The poll looked at agency brands, including impact, prestige and importance to the future. The Defense Department received high marks in several categories, including the agency most important to the future. The CIA was rated most prestigious, along with Defense, as well as the federal employer of choice. The Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, and Health and Human Services Department were among those ranked lowest in customer satisfaction, which could be attributed to various factors, including their public availability, accuracy of information, or ability to deliver on promises. Those surveyed ranked HHS, along with the Social Security Administration, as having the most impact on their personal lives.

"People do need to be reminded of the important role and accomplishments of government," said McGinnis. "The government needs to do a better job of marketing itself." She added that better branding also can improve agency recruiting.

Temporary federal leadership and the lack of real-time, useful information are challenges to improving customer service, said Max Stier, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Identifying the right measurements and understanding the information gathered are critical to institutionalizing change, he said.

Panelists at Monday's event highlighted the importance of engaging all levels of an agency, from top leadership to rank-and-file employees, in evaluating and improving interactions with the public.

Gallup announced that it will measure the public's perception of agency performance annually.

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