Aligning Agencies’ Customer Service with the Private Sector

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have introduced legislation to establish, monitor and improve customer service delivery across federal agencies.

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) have introduced legislation to establish, monitor and improve customer service delivery across federal agencies.

Dubbed the Government Customer Service Improvement Act of 2012, the legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work with federal agencies to develop specific customer service standards, it would require each agency to designate a Service Improvement Officer responsible for monitoring progress, and would require annual reporting on customer service results by agency. It would also establish a special unit within OMB to temporarily assist those agencies which consistently fail to meet customer service standards.

As to the impetus for the legislation, the Senators said in a statement that millions of Americans depend on federal agencies for services, and delays in processing customer service requests often result in “understandable frustration and hardship.”

Consequently, the legislation seeks to make the federal agency customer service process more transparent and efficient. Agencies would be monitored and held accountable as companies in the private sector are – if a private company suffers from poor customer service, its profits will also suffer.

The Office of Personnel Management got special mention due to its chronic backlog in processing federal employees’ retirement applications. The Senators noted that it took an average of five months in February 2012 for federal retirees to get their first benefits check, and delays of a year or more were common. Clearly, the agency is targeted by the legislation as an example of one that needs improvement. Mark Warner in particular has his constituents in mind since Virginia is home to approximately 130,000 federal retirees.

Speaking on the legislation, Warner said, “Government customer service delivery breakdowns appear in the headlines all too often. Many of our veterans wait too long for critical medical services, and federal retirees often wait months before they begin to receive full benefits. That simply is not acceptable. I believe citizens should expect federal agencies to deliver customer service at least as well as the private sector does and, unfortunately, too often that is not the case.”

Johnson added, “Companies that have to succeed in the free market have an incentive to constantly improve customer service. Bad customer service means reduced profits and the risk of failure. Government agencies simply don’t have to respond to competition the way private companies do. This legislation ensures that federal agencies are responsive to the taxpayers who fund them by requiring the development of customer service standards and performance measures at each agency. By embedding the concept of customer service into government operations, agencies will ultimately become more efficient and effective.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.