Citizen Satisfaction With Government Reaches 11-Year High

Visitors sit in a meadow at Yosemite National Park, Calif., below Yosemite Falls.

Visitors sit in a meadow at Yosemite National Park, Calif., below Yosemite Falls. Scott Smith/AP

Citizen satisfaction jumped 2.5 percent in 2017 with federal agencies, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Like the Rolling Stones, it used to be citizens couldn’t get no satisfaction from federal agencies, but a new report suggests citizen satisfaction with the federal government is on the upswing.

Citizen satisfaction reached an 11-year high last year, rising 2.5 percent to 69.7 according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which rates federal agencies annually on a 0 to 100 scale.

The ACSI Federal Government 2017 Report was based off interviews with nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens chosen at random and asked to evaluate their recent government experiences. It is the second consecutive year consumer satisfaction increased after all-time dissatisfaction with federal agencies in 2015.

“The big finding that stands out is that we’ve got aggregate government satisfaction to an 11-year-high,” Forrest Morgeson III, director of research and global customer satisfaction index manager, told Nextgov. “A lot has happened to impact how citizens perceive government services over that period.”

Over the decades, most administrations have made attempts to improve government. It’s too early to tell if the latest effort—began by President Barack Obama and continued by President Donald Trump—are driving increased satisfaction, Morgeson said. One certainty, though, is that citizen satisfaction differs depending on political affiliation.   

Citizen satisfaction among those who identified as Democrats went unchanged from 2016 to 2017, but those identifying as Republicans declined one percent despite having control of Congress and the White House. Scores among self-identified independents rose three percent, a surprising result given recent history.

“There is no correlation between the president’s approval ratings and citizen satisfaction with government services,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI founder and chairman. “But Democrats tend to be most satisfied, while independents and 'other party' members are less so.”

The highest scoring cabinet-level agencies were the Justice, Interior and Defense departments. Morgeson said the Justice Department’s score of 81—up from 74 in last year’s report—was perplexing given how much of a political “hot potato” it’s been over the past year. Interior, Morgeson said, “as always remains wildly popular” in large part because of the overwhelmingly positive experiences citizens receive in national parks.

Conversely, Veterans Affairs, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments produced the poorest experiences.

Of the four drivers ASCI uses to predict citizen satisfaction with agencies, three scores improved to three-year highs in 2017. The timeliness and efficiency of government processes improved three percent to 72, while the clarity and accessibility of information received from agencies and quality of federal websites each improved one percent, to 73 and 77, respectively. The fourth driver, customer service—defined as the courtesy and professionalism of customer service personnel—decreased one percent to 77.