Key Issues > Federal Customer Service
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Federal Customer Service

Federal agencies must meet the needs of customers who depend on the government for vital services, such as medical services for veterans, border and airport security, and taxpayer assistance. Therefore, it is critical for federal agencies to assess their customer service efforts, and make improvements where necessary.

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Over the past 20 years, both Congress and the executive branch have taken actions to help agencies improve federal customer service. The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) required that agency performance plans measure progress toward customer service goals, including quality, timeliness, and satisfaction. Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) designated customer service a cross-agency priority (CAP) goal in 2014. Still, customer service challenges exist across the federal government.

Many federal agencies we reviewed often do not:

  • set measurable customer service goals,
  • measure progress toward meeting those goals,
  • maintain formal feedback mechanisms to make changes, or
  • make information easily available to the public.

As a result, they may not be meeting customer needs or identifying improvements to address customer concerns. Here are some agency-specific examples:

Internal Revenue Service (IRS): In fiscal year 2015, IRS provided the lowest level of telephone service compared to prior years—only 38 percent of callers who wanted to speak with IRS staff were able to do so. The agency also had similar issues with its mail, online, and face-to-face services. There were improvements in 2016, however the severe decline in service highlights the challenges IRS faces. While the agency is developing a new customer service strategy, the extent to which it will address IRS’s challenges remains unclear.

Social Security Administration (SSA): SSA's workload has grown with the aging of the baby boomer population; at the same time, many of its most experienced staff are expected to retire. The agency estimates that retirement and disability beneficiaries will increase by 29 percent between 2014 and 2025, while about one-third of its employees will retire by 2022. As a result, SSA faces significant customer service challenges.

Despite SSA’s efforts to manage its rising workload, customer service in field offices and on its telephone hotline has been adversely affected. The agency also has yet to create a strategic roadmap detailing the actions and resources it needs to achieve its long-term vision. However, SSA has taken steps to improve its customer service, such as by increasing the proportion of its services that are delivered electronically. It is also developing workforce management and succession plans to address the potential loss of expertise from staff retirements.

Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Podcasts

2015 Tax Filing SeasonThursday, January 14, 2016
SSA Management ChallengesWednesday, May 29, 2013
  • portrait of J. Christopher Mihm
    • J. Christopher Mihm
    • Managing Director, Strategic Issues
    • mihmj@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-6806