Public satisfaction with federal services increases

Astrid Dininno/Corbis

Americans today are happier with federal services than they were a year ago, but overall trust in government has declined, according to a new survey.

The public's satisfaction with federal services increased 2.3 percent to a score of 66.9 in 2011, after a 5 percent decrease between 2009 and 2010, the American Customer Satisfaction Index found. People's trust in Uncle Sam, however, dropped 12 percent from a score of 41 in 2010 to 36 in 2011. The index is based on a 0 to 100 point scoring scale.

Respondents in general were more pleased with experiences at specific departments than with the government overall.

"While people generally distrust federal government as a whole, they are much more positive toward the job that individual agencies are performing," said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

"Paradoxically perhaps, these findings suggest that the more people come into contact with government service, the more they actually like it," Fornell said. "The lack of trust has much more to do with politicians than it does with federal workers and the services of the federal government."

The Michigan-based ASCI is a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services available to household consumers in the United States. Data from interviews with approximately 70,000 customers annually are used to measure satisfaction with more than 225 companies in 47 industries and 10 economic sectors, along with more than 200 services, programs and the websites of approximately 130 federal government agencies.

Federal agencies that administer benefits largely received higher scores than those with a regulatory mission, the survey found. Some federal agencies, such as the National Weather Service and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, received scores on par with the highest-rated private sector firms, including and FedEx, according to the report.

People were not as happy with departments such as Homeland Security and Treasury, largely due to negative impressions of and experiences with their two best-known agencies: the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. DHS' Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, however, scored highly in the information and news category, and taxpayers who filed their taxes electronically were more satisfied than those who submitted paperwork.

DHS and Treasury can take solace in the fact that they scored higher than the two worst private sector companies included in the survey: Pepco Holdings and Delta Air Lines.

Despite the increase in satisfaction with federal services, the government still trails the lowest scoring private sector segment in the index. One weak spot is handling complaints, the report said. The government received a score of 44 out of 100 for its performance in handling complaints, which was only slightly better the airline industry's score of 43.

The index also found that political ideology played a role in how respondents felt about government. Respondents who identified themselves as liberal were more satisfied with and had more trust in government than those who characterized themselves as conservative.

In addition to its report on the federal government, ACSI this week released its fourth quarter 2011 report on the public's satisfaction with e-government, which received a score of 75.1 "Citizens remain considerably more satisfied when they interact with the government online than they are with their government experiences overall," said a press release accompanying the report. ACSI and customer experience analytics firm ForeSee produced the e-gov findings.

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