The people-first approach tackles everything from federal benefits to passport services to disaster recovery.
President Biden signed an executive order on Monday outlining a people-centric approach to improving the federal government’s customer service with an emphasis on efficiency and accountability.
The executive order furthers the president’s management agenda, which the White House released last month. The purpose is “to put people at the center of everything the government does,” said a fact sheet from the White House. The order has 36 customer experience commitments across 17 federal agencies.
“The federal government interacts with millions of people each day and provides vital services during some of the most critical moments in people’s lives,” said the White House. “But too often, people have to navigate a tangled web of government websites, offices and phone numbers to access the services they depend on. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring an effective, equitable, and accountable government that meets the needs of its people.”
Agency actions fall into the following categories: retiring; filing and managing your taxes; surviving a disaster; traveling; financing post-secondary education; managing Veterans Affairs healthcare and benefits; reducing barriers for those in poverty; financing your business; supporting women, infants and children; managing your health; and updating personal information.
For example, “Veterans and beneficiaries, and their caregivers or other designated representatives, will be able to access digital services through a single, integrated, and fully inclusive digital platform on VA.gov and a flagship VA mobile application,” said the White House. Another example is, “Americans will be able to renew their passports securely online, saving time from having to wait and the effort and cost required to print, go to a post office, and use a paper check.”
Beyond the provisions listed in the categories above, other actions listed in the executive order are that USA.gov “will be redesigned as a centralized and streamlined ‘digital federal front door;’” the grant application processes for tribal communities will be redone; and the Fish and Wildlife Service will allow more of their service transactions to be online, said the White House.
In developing the executive order, the administration looked at “the points of greatest friction” in customer services, the “time tax” for services and “life experiences” for the general population as well as specific ones such as veterans and small business owners, said Neera Tanden, senior advisor to the president, on a call with reporters.
Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said most of the agency actions can be completed in the “near term,” such as a few months to a year. Accountability is another key aspect of the executive order, he said.
“We’re going to measure [customer service] at a granular level including designing and delivering our services from the user perspective. We’re going to report on that performance,” Miller said. “High-impact service providers are going to be required to have annual improvement plans.” This will be managed by the White House OMB and the president's management council.” He pledged the administration will be transparent about where they are and aren’t having success.
On the call, Government Executive asked if there will be further guidance on the implementation of the various agency actions. Miller said one of OMB’s main goals is providing the necessary guidance to agencies, which it will continue to do, and much of their ongoing work will be on Performance.gov.
The administration will implement the order using existing capabilities across the government, such as those of the U.S. Digital Service. Robin Carnahan, administrator of the General Services Administration, shared in a statement some preliminary information on how GSA will be assisting.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, applauded the executive order. Also, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the committee's Government Operations panel, said “with trust in government at an all-time low, it is crucial that the administration and Congress work together to improve how the public interacts and receives services from the federal government.” He’s introduced legislation in the past with a similar goal.
The executive order is “powerful,” said Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry adviser for government at Qualtrics, an experience management company, who is a former Office of Personnel Management official, in a statement. The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service also praised the order and said it looks forward to working with the Biden administration on these issues.
Dan Chenok, executive director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, told Government Executive, “the experience that Americans have in how government meets their needs ––most of which involve multiple agencies around any particular life event–– and the effectiveness of service delivery around those needs, can drive greater understanding and public trust in government.” Overall, this is “an important step forward in implementing the president's management agenda.”