Office of American Innovation Targets Federal Customer Service

Christopher Liddell, White House Director of Strategic Initiatives

Christopher Liddell, White House Director of Strategic Initiatives Alex Brandon/AP

“If we can just make individual people’s everyday lives 20 percent better, that would be a huge contribution,” White House adviser Chris Liddell said.

The White House Office of American Innovation has its crosshairs set on improving federal customer service, a major challenge because of the government’s "near monopoly" in providing poor service delivery.  

The White House’s customer service effort is linked to modernizing government technology and will include long-term “strategic, multiyear projects,” according to Chris Liddell, assistant to the president and director of strategic initiatives.

“We want to set up machinery and infrastructure of how to modernize government services,” Liddell said Wednesday, speaking at an event hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. “This could be a multiyear, 10-plus-year journey, to do what we can do while we’re here, but set up machinery for surviving past us.”

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The goal, Liddell said, will be giving public-sector customers and American citizens “the same experience as they do in the private sector.” It’s a lofty ambition considering the customer-centric business models of leading companies like Amazon, but Liddell said even small improvements to federal service delivery could positively affect hundreds of millions of Americans.

“If we can just make individual people’s everyday lives 20 percent better, that would be a huge contribution,” he said.

Previous presidential administrations, including President Barack Obama’s, have tackled the issue, but the Trump administration has managed to carve out bipartisan support through several early initiatives.

In one case, officials from the Office of American Innovation worked behind the scenes on IT modernization legislation authored by Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, that unanimously cleared the House and currently awaits a Senate vote. The White House also earned kudos after advising Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to consider a sole-source contract for an electronic health records system already being built for the Pentagon, potentially saving billions of dollars.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is also eyeing federal customer service. In May, Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act, which would simplify the way agencies collect feedback from citizens. In June, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, introduced similar legislation in the House.

“It really is a shame that public perception of service the government is giving them is so poor, we are behind when delivering the customer experience,” Farenthold said Wednesday, also at the Partnership for Public Service event.

Farenthold said the FACE Act would ease the way in which agencies solicit feedback and allow them to detect “breakdowns in the system earlier."

Liddell said the White House will use its “convening power” to draw together various public, private and academic factions, as it did in June when it brought tech titans to Washington. He’s also spent time meeting with the CFO Act agencies' chief information officers and other federal tech leaders, “convening around certain themes and thinking about how to push the ball forward.”

The White House wants to open up federal data and government platforms so “the private sector can build on it,” Liddell added.

In the near future, Liddell said the White House may create centers of excellence across government to promote cross-agency service efforts. Such entities could exist around topics like cloud services and data center consolidation, and implement things agency to agency.

“We’ve launched the boat and we’re excited about the direction it is taking,” Liddell said.

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