DHS aims to cut another 10M hours of paperwork

cmannphoto/Getty Images

Within the newly formalized DHS Customer Experience Office, “our biggest challenge is that the demand far outstrips the supply,” said its leader, Dana Chisnell.

The Department of Homeland Security has a new, permanent customer experience office and new mandates to make improvements, including an imperative to build off recent successes in reducing the time Americans spend trying to access department services by shaving off another 10 million hours.

The overall goal is to shape a “human-centered Department of Homeland Security,” the head of the DHS CX office, Dana Chisnell, told Nextgov/FCW. It’s a nod to human-centered design, an iterative method that prioritizes the needs of end users over the incentives and structures of the system in which that service is being created.

The new CX office — which was formally established in the department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer in September, as a result of the White House’s 2021 CX executive order — is the outgrowth of a “scrappy little group” that’s been in place since DHS CIO Eric Hysen took his role in early 2021, said Chisnell. Both she and Hysen are alumni of the White House’s U.S. Digital Service.

The establishment of the CX office was quickly followed by the launch of the department's first annual burden reduction plan for fiscal year 2024.

Last year, the department reduced the time the public spends accessing its services by over 21 million hours annually, as measured by a process housed at the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act. 

Dana Chisnell, head of the customer experience directorate at DHS. (Photo courtesy: Dana Chisnell)

DHS forms and data collections require about 190 million hours of the public every year, said Chisnell. To achieve the 21-million-hour reduction, employees created pre-populated forms, allowed new forms to be submitted online and more.

Now, DHS is aiming to pare down the time spent accessing its services by another 10 million hours. It is also aiming to redesign 75% of internal DHS headquarters forms to make internal processes at the department more efficient. Future efforts will include a full redesign of all internal-facing forms at DHS, Hysen wrote in the memo launching the 2024 effort.

Within the CX office, “our biggest challenge is that the demand far outstrips the supply,” said Chisnell, noting that “there’s so many people on board from the Secretary on down.” 

“The window is open, and everybody seems to be pretty excited about” customer experience efforts, she said. “The question is, how do you operationalize that on a day to day basis?”

Although the office helps with some specific service delivery projects and rapid response work, it largely offers support and technical assistance to existing efforts, said Chisnell, noting that some DHS feds have already been doing this work “for a long time.”

The office is also working on rolling out new, experiential CX training programs for DHS feds and will focus on implementing recently released OMB guidance around digital experience, said Chisnell.

Already, in addition to working on the burden reduction efforts, the office has led a hiring push for CX professionals that resulted in 13 hires into the now formalized CX office and an additional 12 elsewhere in the department, said Chisnell.

The main goal for the office is “to affect culture change across the department” and build the capacity to do so, said Chisnell.

Soon, it will also be helping new CX offices and programs being created in DHS components, per the DHS secretary’s fall directive that such components “formalize their own CX functions, create an office or program, etc.,” said Chisnell. 

Creating a truly human-centered DHS will require changes to implementation, where final outcomes often aren’t considered until the end of a back-and-forth between policy, legal and tech teams, she said. 

“What we work on every day in the customer experience directorate, along with our component partners and all of our partners in [headquarters], is rethinking what that decision-making formula is,” said Chisnell, “and, over time, shifting the conversation” to center on the outcome the department is aiming for and the best delivery mechanisms to get there.

“Then, the emphasis is not only on the technology, but on what the experience is and how can we get closer to the outcome that we want folks to have,” she said. “How do we make sure the outcome that we want is the one that we're actually delivering for?”