The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the bipartisan Government Customer Service Improvement Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). The bipartisan legislation works to improve customer service delivery across federal agencies, and a companion bill was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) in July. The Warner/Johnson legislation currently is pending before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee.
Millions of Americans depend on federal agencies for vital services, and delays in processing those requests often result in inconvenience, frustration and financial hardship. Passage of this legislation will make the federal agency customer service process both more transparent and efficient. Agencies will be monitored and held accountable, and this legislation seeks to better focus limited resources on improving front-line customer service functions.
"Today's House action advancing this commonsense legislation is a positive step forward. Citizens should expect federal agencies to deliver customer services at least as well as the private sector does, but this often is not the case," Senator Warner said. "Many of our veterans still wait too long for critical medical services, and federal retirees often must wait months before they begin to receive full retirement benefits. That simply is not acceptable."
"I hope that the Senate follows the lead of the House in taking up and passing this bipartisan legislation," said Senator Johnson. "Since government agencies aren't pressed to improve customer service through competition -- as private companies are -- we have to explore other tools to attempt to embed a culture of customer service. This is just common sense."
"I am pleased to see the passage of this bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives. This legislation puts the taxpayers first and makes Uncle Sam friendlier by ensuring quality service to Americans when interacting with federal agencies. I thank my friend Senator Warner, who I've worked with on other good government initiatives, for his interest and pursuit to enhance our federal government with the introduction of the Senate companion bill." said Congressman Cuellar. "When nearly half of American households are relying on government aid and millions of others encounter the federal government on a daily basis, every American will benefit from this legislation. I look forward to working with our friends on the Senate side, including Senators Warner and Johnson, to move the bill for swift passage in their chamber."
The measure requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work with federal agencies to develop specific customer service standards, requires each agency to designate a Service Improvement Officer responsible for monitoring progress, and requires annual reporting on customer service results by agency. The Senate version also would establish a specialized team to provide guidance to assist those agencies which consistently fail to meet customer service standards.
According to surveys conducted last year by the Federal Customer Experience Study, only 31% of surveyed Americans are very satisfied with customer service by the federal government, while 79% said the government can do a better job.
In addition, the Senate version of the Government Customer Service Improvement Act of 2012 sets specific service improvement targets for the Office of Personnel Management, an agency which has experienced chronic backlogs in processing retirement benefits for federal employees. In February 2012, it took an average of five months for federal retirees to receive their first full benefit check, though delays of a year or more were common. In addition, customers who call OPM consistently experience busy signals and significant wait times. Senator Warner has specific interest in reducing the OPM backlog because Virginia is home to approximately 130,000 federal retirees. The OPM-specific provisions are not included in the House legislation which passed today.