Federal Agency Customer Experience Act Clears Senate

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The legislation awaits a markup from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Legislation that would make it easier for federal agencies to gather public feedback about their customer service cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, with the Senate unanimously passing the bill.

The Federal Agency Customer Experience Act, introduced in May by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and James Lankford, R-Okla., would roll back lengthy approval processes agencies have to go through to collect voluntary feedback from customers and citizens. It would also create a new layer of oversight—both from Congress and the executive branch—over how agencies deliver services.

While the bipartisan FACE Act cleared the Senate unanimously and enjoys support from President Trump’s Office of American Innovation, it has one more legislative hurdle to clear before arriving at the president’s desk: the House.

The House version of the bill was introduced in June by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and currently awaits a markup in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A date for the markup hasn’t been set yet.

Farenthold has been outspoken about the bill.

At an event hosted by Nextgov and Government Executive Nov. 2, Farenthold said it “defied common sense” that federal agencies couldn’t solicit voluntary feedback from customers the same way hotels or airlines do. That kind of rapid, real-time feedback helps businesses identify issues before they balloon into major problems, he said.

“What we’re trying to do with the FACE Act is make it easier for government agencies to do that,” Farenthold said. “There’s a reason it’s done, and that’s because if you don’t know how the customer perceives you, you can’t fix it.”

In another example, Farenthold lamented how hard it was for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve the language it uses to engage citizens over disaster response assistance.

When Farenthold’s district was hit hard this fall by Hurricane Harvey, many constituents were denied FEMA assistance because they filled out incomplete disaster assistance applications, he said. But it took those constituents a long time to figure out what the problem actually was.

“You’ve got to read through paragraph after paragraph of legalese to find out at the bottom that you forgot to check a box or send a piece of paper in,” Farenthold said.

That language sends the wrong message to customers, especially those already under undue stress, he said, adding: “We do need to step back and think about the communications we have with people.