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 GAO 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 2018—and for the third year in a row—IRS improved its telephone service by answering 80 percent of calls seeking live assistance and reducing wait times to about 5 minutes during the filing season. This compares to about 37 percent of calls answered with an average wait time of about 23 minutes during the 2015 filing season.

Figure 1: IRS Improved Telephone Service and Wait Times During the 2018 Filing Season

IRS Improved Telephone Service and Wait Times  During the 2018 Filing Season

However, answering taxpayers' paper correspondence remains a challenge—IRS was late responding to about 37 percent of correspondence by the end of the 2018 filing season (compared to about 26 percent in 2017). And although the agency is developing a new customer service strategy, it is unclear how the new strategy will address late mail response while maintaining an improved level of telephone service since the same assistors that answer the phone also respond to correspondence.

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 18 percent between 2017 and 2025, while over 21,000 of its more than 60,000 employees – about one-third  – will retire by 2022. As a result, SSA faces significant customer service challenges.

Figure 2:  Long-Term Projected Growth in SSA's Workload Coincides with Large Numbers of Potential Employee Retirements

Long-Term Projected Growth in SSA's Workload Coincides with Large Numbers of Potential Employee Retirements

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 also developed 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
Airline Passenger ProtectionsTuesday, November 20, 2018
IRS Customer Service in 2016Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Education's Direct Loan ProgramWednesday, June 15, 2016
SSA Management ChallengesWednesday, May 29, 2013