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Senator wants to make complaining about the government easier

The FirstGov Web portal should include a complaint box where citizens can lodge complaints with any federal agency, said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a Nov. 21 letter to the General Services Administration. A single, centralized complaint box would make the submission of an electronic complaint much easier by shifting the burden of routing complaints to the right agency from citizens to the government, Wyden said. "At present, a citizen with a significant complaint about a product, a service or a government function may not know which agency or office to contact, and might therefore fail to lodge the complaint," he said. FirstGov, a Web portal that provides access to all online federal government resources, has featured "feedback" links on its home page since its debut in late September. While users can access the customer service sites of many agencies through these links, they still must locate and fill out the individualized complaint forms of each agency. As of July, online complaint forms were available at only seven of 32 agencies designated as "high impact" by the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, according to a recent General Accounting Office report. Wyden proposes to streamline electronic complaints by providing one set of complaint forms at FirstGov. On the basis of information submitted by the user, the Web site would then route the complaint to the appropriate agency. Users would get an email telling them when their complaint had been processed. While all online complaints would be submitted to FirstGov, individual agencies would still need to accept online complaints under Wyden's proposal. However, FirstGov need not put off a new complaint box until all agencies are capable of processing such complaints, Wyden said. "For some types of complaints, this 'online complaint box' initially might be limited to identifying the appropriate agency or office and providing a telephone number for the citizen to call," Wyden said. Wyden's complaint box is similar to one provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which earned high marks in the GAO study. "The study shows that when an agency does provide a good online complaint mechanism, people use it," Wyden said in his letter to GSA. The GAO study was requested by Wyden and Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. The FirstGov team at GSA is preparing a response to Wyden's letter, according to GSA spokeswoman Eleni Martin.