For Federal Customer Service to Work, Congress, the White House and Agencies Need 'Fundamental' Change, Report Says
A new report from the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services outlines the systemic barriers to customer experience, and the collaboration between Congress and the executive branch needed to address them.
Although stopgap solutions and incremental changes can improve how people experience government, a new report contends that achieving the full vision of the customer experience efforts being pushed by the Biden administration would require wholesale changes to government.
“Much of government structure and regulation was not designed with customers in mind,” said the report coauthored by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and consulting firm Accenture Federal Services and released today. “Designing and implementing customer solutions within this government-centric framework will always be a challenge.”
Implementing solutions to problem areas in data-sharing and budgeting would require collaboration between the White House, agencies and Congress, the report says.
The Biden-Harris administration already has a stake in customer experience, which it zeroed in on in an executive order and in its management agenda. The effort is meant to make government services easier to access and ultimately increase trust in government.
But a common sore spot is data sharing, often limited by differing interpretations among agencies about data privacy protections.
Data is core to customer experience efforts, such as measuring customer feedback and easily enrolling participants across programs by sharing information about them, but the report notes that “the burden of providing even the most basic data typically lands on customers.
“Federal agencies—and their state-level counterparts—often lack clear, authoritative data sharing policy and occasionally seek out one-off waivers from Congress that result in inconsistent, temporary solutions,” the report said. “Many of these challenges require government-wide or congressional action.”
Agencies can take some steps without Congress or the White House, like building out expedited data sharing agreement templates for customer experience work.
But the report recommends that the Office of Management and Budget push government-wide approaches to laws and regulations on research and data protection.
It also calls on Congress to pass the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act, which is meant to make it easier for agencies to get voluntary customer feedback to improve services.
The White House will likely also need Congress’ help in terms of finding flexible funding for customer experience projects that cross agency lines – something that top officials leading efforts to build out services around “life experiences” have been discussing already.
“Bottom line… I think if people were starting over again 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago, whatever the program we're talking about, might they have designed it differently in terms of agencies or authorities? I think they probably would,” said Loren DeLonge Schulman, Partnership vice president of research, evaluation and modernizing government.
Short of an organizational overhaul or breaking barriers between agencies, the question is, “what flexibilities can Congress offer in order to make this process simpler… for us to be able to jointly invest in and jointly work together on some of these challenges?” said Schulman.
The report recommends that Congress work with OMB and agencies to mitigate statutory barriers to cross-program alongside multi-agency funding.
To make it an easier experience for customers to be able to obtain benefits through government programs, the report suggests that OMB and Congress also reconsider the regulatory and statutory frameworks that govern those programs.
“OMB should collaborate with other federal agencies to identify the program recertification requirements that increase the administrative burden on customers and either address them through regulation or propose that Congress streamline or eliminate them where possible,” the report says.
The report also recommends that agencies work with Congress to expand presumptive eligibility, where eligible individuals are automatically enrolled in benefits, and to make permanent the effective flexibilities around benefit enrollment and delivery that were used during the pandemic.
The other bigger to-do items include action from Capitol Hill to resource long-term hiring for customer experience talent and cross-agency teams to support interagency work, the report said.
In the meantime, agencies can take short-term action items like embedding customer experience goals into performance expectations across C-suites and streamlining approval processes for data sharing and customer research.
“A truly seamless approach to customers’ life experiences — like experiencing a disaster or managing financial insecurity — is likely impossible without a rewiring of policy architecture and the oversight infrastructure that comes with it,” the report said. “But until such fundamental reforms are realized, smaller-scale redesigns could go a long way to improving the public’s relationship with the government.”