DOJ launches CX-focused initiative

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The first project in the new push is focusing on improving the portals Americans use to report crimes to the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice launched a new push, dubbed the Access DOJ Initiative, on Thursday that’s meant to rework DOJ programs and services so that it is easier for Americans to reach the department. 

“We are reinforcing our commitment to ensuring that justice truly belongs to everyone,” said Rachel Rossi, director of the Office for Access to Justice, at a DOJ event on the new initiative Thursday. 

The means to that goal are human-centered design principles, said Rossi, a methodology that relies on intended end-users throughout the development process to make sure that the final product actually does what it’s intended to do.

The effort aligns with ongoing goals to improve customer experience and Americans’ perceptions of and satisfaction with their interactions with government under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. The Government Accountability Office zeroed in on those efforts in a recent report detailing progress in agencies reporting customer feedback information in the current administration. 

The legal field has been slower to take on the effort to reduce administrative burdens, said Rossi, because of “the traditional nature of law.” 

The initiative marks a new focus for DOJ, which does not have a formal customer experience office.

“It will ensure that the Department, for the first time, has a localized hub of expertise focused on assisting components broadly with human-centered design practices,” Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin Mizer said in a statement to Nextgov/FCW, saying that the initiative “will provide a path for us to make the Justice Department’s services more accessible, effective, and efficient at meeting the needs of the diverse communities we serve.”

The project is the outgrowth of cross-agency partnerships taken on by the Office for Access to Justice, an existing DOJ component. 

“Although the term ‘customer experience’ sometimes seems foreign to us in the legal profession, ultimately, justice is … an experience of fairness and safety, an experience of equal access,” said Rossi. “Without feedback from the public, we can't fully assess our progress toward achieving equal access to justice.”

Their first project will review crime reporting portals across the department, with an eye to improving usability. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will be partnering with the Office for Access to Justice on that project.

“At ATF, if we don't hear about crimes, we sure as heck can’t solve them, and that is a problem,” said Steven Dettelbach, ATF director. “The hard step of contacting law enforcement can be daunting enough on its own, even before you add any artificial barriers… The barriers that separate law-abiding citizens from peace and justice that they deserve must be lowered.”

The team behind the new initiative will also be providing resources, training and support on things like plain language and chair a new community of practice in DOJ.  

Already, the office has worked with the Office of the Pardon Attorney to rework the form used to request a Presidential pardon, which became public earlier this week. Another project focused on increasing access to required bankruptcy meetings. 

Rossi emphasized to attendees of the launch event that although human-centered design is a change, testing before deployment can also lower risks and enhance efficiency and effectiveness by ensuring that something works ahead of time. 

“We simply cannot be the judge of whether our materials are accessible and effective,” she said. “Only the people using our services can do that.”