Federal Web-based Complaint Handling
AIMD-00-238R: Published: Jul 7, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2000.
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the use of the Internet to facilitate the submission and resolution of federal customer complaints, focusing on the: (1) type and extent of web-based complaint mechanisms provided by 32 federal agencies which handle 90 percent of the federal government's contact with the public; and (2) status of two federal efforts to develop central Internet-based gateways: http://www.consumer.gov and FirstGov.
GAO noted that: (1) most major federal agencies are using the Internet to provide an electronic means for citizens to lodge complaints; (2) 21 of the 32 high-impact agencies provide an electronic mail (e-mail) link on their web sites for citizens to submit comments or complaints; (3) seven agencies provided on-line access to structured complaint forms for specific federal programs; (4) four of these seven allowed citizens to complete and forward the form on-line, while three others had forms that could be downloaded, printed, and mailed to the agency; (5) 28 agencies allowed the public to send e-mail comments about their home pages to the agency's webmaster; (6) 29 agencies provided postal addresses, e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers for federal program contact points; (7) although 29 of the 32 agencies provided some type of on-line customer contact mechanism or link, these links were not always easy to find; (8) 15 agencies did not offer a link for public comments on its home page, and 5 agencies required clicking on three or more links before a customer could access the feedback mechanism; (9) the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the General Services Administration (GSA), have developed or are developing central customer-oriented Internet web sites; (10) the FTC initiated the http://www.consumer.gov site in 1995 with a budget of $25,000; (11) the site provides links to consumer information on 168 federal web sites; (12) the FTC encourages federal web sites to provide links to http://www.consumer.gov on their web sites; (13) rather than providing links to agencies, it presents the consumer with information and links to complaint forms grouped by topic or subject area; (14) thus, a consumer does not have to know which agency to contact to submit a comment or lodge a complaint; (15) GSA is developing an Internet gateway called FirstGov, formerly known as WebGov; (16) the prototype site provides links to about 2,500 federal web sites, but does not have a link to agency complaint forms yet; (17) links to all kinds of agency forms, including complaints, are likely to be included in the next update to the system; (18) GSA is using the pilot to clarify the functional requirements of the system so that the agency can issue a contract to build the initial stage one public launch version of FirstGov search service; (19) GSA estimates that it will need $5 million to $7 million annually to publicly launch the project, which is to be contributed to by other federal agencies; and (20) GSA is in the process of developing a project plan, which will include a schedule for launching the project and sustaining the service annually.