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Agencies outline technology-based customer service initiatives

Federal agencies this week outlined a number of projects aimed at using technology to make life simpler for citizens -- from loan applicants who have to transmit tax records to residents traveling frequently across the borders with Canada and Mexico.

The Internal Revenue Service is developing an application that will allow tax filers to send a secure electronic summary of their returns to a loan officer or another third party, the IRS said in a plan posted this week on the White House's website.

The State Department is working on a pilot program to accept electronic signatures from some applicants for passport cards, a document similar to a driver's license that allows northern and southern border residents to easily cross over from the United States to Canada or Mexico. If the effort is successful, State might consider accepting electronic signatures for full passport books, according to the department's customer service strategy.

The plans come in response to an executive order President Obama issued in April calling on federal agencies to adopt customer service practices learned from industry.

Each plan includes at least one signature initiative to use technology to improve service.

The Transportation Department's marquee project is to publish updated information on the safety of U.S. long-distance bus carriers. The idea is for private sector entrepreneurs to use that data to build Web and mobile applications.

The Social Security Administration is expanding its use of video hearings for disability claims, according to its plan. The Interior Department is creating a unified public database that will combine numerous stand-alone scientific data repositories within the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The White House has launched several initiatives to improve the government's public face, most notably a plan to drastically cut down the federal Web presence, which has grown to more than 15,000 sites. The program is aimed, in part, at transitioning federal websites from an agency-based organizing principle to a user-based model, making it easier for citizens to get information about a government service even if they don't know which agency to turn to.

The General Services Administration has created a unified government search engine,, aimed at correcting for agencies' often clunky search engines.

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