Executive Order on Federal Customer Service
A New Practice Lab Explainer
Oleksandr Panasovskyi // Shutterstock
Dec. 13, 2021
Today, the White House published an executive order that opens the door for federal agencies to radically transform how they serve the American public.
“The Government’s primary mission is to serve. By placing people at the center of everything we do, the Government will be able to deliver timely, modern, and secure services to you – the people.”
The order, “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government,” directs leaders and agencies to focus and be held accountable for services they provide to the public.
As the authors of a book about governments solving public problems in the digital age, today’s announcement resonates with and reminds us: there is no solving the world’s hardest problems without governments and institutions that really work for people.
Tackling this challenge of making the government work for people is exactly what the new executive order out today from the Biden White House aims to do.
The order focuses on 36 customer experience (CX) improvement commitments across more than a dozen federal agencies. Critically it establishes a process that holds agencies accountable not just for policy outcomes but also for the ways in which agencies meet people where they are at critical moments from turning 65 to having a birth to moving.
The world’s increased complexity means that today’s government leaders face growing challenges driven by the distance between decision makers, lawmakers, public officials and the people they serve. Still, it is not necessarily a new hurdle. President Lincoln, leading a country of 31 million, became perhaps the first U.S. President to conduct user research when he opened the doors to the White House for post-breakfast meetings with citizens.
Just as it was in Lincoln’s time, there is no serving the American people without support from the top. After years spent studying how governments successfully solve problems and serve their citizens, the lesson is simple: true transformation requires leadership from the top. Today, President Biden is sending a clear message to the leaders of every agency to focus on people and improve their experience with their government.
The U.S. government is now ten times the size as it was in Lincoln’s time. Residents’ lives look vastly different than they did in the 1800’s yet many federal processes and structures were born of an era closer to Lincoln’s than to our current digital age. In order to keep the federal government responsive to the public in this current age, we need new tools, new roles, and new skill sets. Agencies and teams like the US Digital Service (USDS), 18F, and customer experience leaders inside the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have been diligently working to help agencies bring their services into the digital age. But this executive order provides an important additional boost.
And we must accelerate progress on bringing customer experience into the digital age if we hope to curb the freefall of public trust in institutions. We aren’t going to change the way people feel about government until more people experience a functional, even pleasant experience interacting with the government.
Imagine a world where passports are easily renewed online, retirees can track the status of their benefits, and tax refunds automatically appear in bank accounts. With a government that truly works for and with the American people, our lives could look a lot different. And we must start now. Today’s order allows the federal government to begin rebuilding (or establishing) trust at a critical moment when Americans need government most.