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.
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.
GAO-16-758: Published: Sep 1, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 3, 2016.
While limitations in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) data make an accurate assessment difficult, GAO estimates that roughly half of the 7,229 Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202) properties have HUD-funded service coordinators—staff who link residents to supportive services such as transportation assistance or meals. HUD's data indicate that 38 per...
GAO-16-693: Published: Aug 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), General Services Administration (GSA), and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) took several steps to improve the usefulness of Performance.gov, a website intended to serve as the public window to the federal government's goals and performance. However, their actions do not fully meet selected Digitalgov.gov requirements for federal websites (which a...
GAO-16-523: Published: May 16, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2016.
The Department of Education (Education) and its contracted loan servicers provide a range of information to borrowers about their federal Direct Loans for higher education, such as repayment plans and procedures, but some borrowers GAO interviewed reported difficulties with contacting servicers through their call centers. Borrowers noted similar concerns in Education's 2014 and 2015 customer satis...
GAO-16-151: Published: Dec 16, 2015. Publicly Released: Jan 14, 2016.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provided the lowest level of telephone service during fiscal year 2015 compared to prior years, with only 38 percent of callers who wanted to speak with an IRS assistor able to reach one. This lower level of service occurred despite lower demand from callers seeking live assistance, which has fallen by 6 percent since 2010 to about 51 million callers in 2015. Ove...
GAO-15-84: Published: Oct 24, 2014. Publicly Released: Oct 24, 2014.
GAO reviewed the customer service standards at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Forest Service, Federal Student Aid (FSA), the National Park Service (NPS), and two services in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)—disability compensation and Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI). GAO found that none of the agencies' standards included all of the key elements of customer service standard...