The customer may not always be right – but the hundreds of millions of Americans who are consumers of government services will have an easier time because of reforms to how federal agencies work, President Joe Biden promised with the signature of an executive order on Monday. .
The order includes 36 “customer experience” improvements across 17 federal agencies, many of which are digital upgrades that bring federal bureaucracy into the 21st century — or at least, the 20th century. Improvements include the ability for retirees to go online to claim their Social Security benefits and manage Medicare health care and prescription drug plans.
Those who want to renew their passport will be able to do so over the Internet, instead of having to go in person to a post office and pay with a paper check. Taxpayers tired of waiting for IRS support can schedule a callback to get their questions answered.
Students who are direct loan borrowers can access a single portal – StudentAid.gov – to apply for, manage and repay their loans. Red tape is also being streamlined for low-income people applying for assistance as well as for small businesses and farmers applying for assistance and loans.
And for the more than 30 million people who change residence each year, there will be a one-stop shop, where individuals can fill out a single federal form that will be shared with the appropriate agencies and states. The 2 million people who change their names each year can do so without having to appear in person at a Social Security Administration office.
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“I know it seems like a simple thing. I think it’s pretty big,” Biden said as he signed the executive order in the Oval Office, his cabinet members standing behind him.
The reforms will “allow government to operate more efficiently” so it’s “not as confusing,” Biden added.
In a historically partisan era, these measures are meant to remind Americans of the essential functions of government. While the public may be divided on issues such as abortion, taxation, and immigration, nearly everyone has some sort of basic service interaction with the federal government. And many Americans complain about the service.
Gallup poll shows that Americans have a low opinion of the federal government: A total of 26% in an August 2021 survey had a very or somewhat positive opinion of the government, compared to a combined positive rating of 41% in August 2003.
The fact that this year’s numbers aren’t much different from Donald Trump’s presidency suggests that customer satisfaction isn’t closely aligned with who sits in the Oval Office. Last year, citizen satisfaction with the federal government continued to fall in three years, reaching its lowest point since 2015, according to the US Customer Satisfaction Index Federal Government Report. The study obtained a citizen satisfaction rating of 65.1 (out of 100), down 4.1 points from 2019.
Presidents have tried in various ways to improve the federal government’s image, says survey director Forrest Morgeson, an assistant professor of marketing at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business.
“It’s not a new phenomenon. Every administration tries to adopt some sort of initiative to improve citizens’ interactions with government,” Morgeson said.
The problem, notes Morgeson, is that the federal government does not have the resources for the computers and advanced technology used by the private sector. Biden’s executive order aims to improve some of that, including using better technology to speed up passenger screening at airports.
Democrats and Republicans have fairly similar views on government, Morgeson says. Republican approval tends to drop when a Democrat is in the White House, he says, citing his research. With Democrats, approval rises when a Democrat is in office, instead of falling when a Republican is president, he says.
Biden’s efforts to better serve citizen consumers are admirable — but unless there’s a strong following, people might not view their government any kinder, Morgeson says.
“These things only work if you can somehow incentivize these agencies” to make real, long-term change, he says.