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 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
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
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.
GAO-19-76: Published: Nov 20, 2018. Publicly Released: Nov 20, 2018.
Remember when a passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight? Recent customer service issues like this have prompted Congress to question if the Department of Transportation is doing enough to protect passengers. We summarized airline consumer protections and trends in DOT service data (like on-time flights) and passenger complaints. We found that while service generally improved in r...
GAO-18-659: Published: Sep 21, 2018. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 2018.
Taxpayers don’t have to go to court to appeal IRS decisions such as tax bills. They have the option of bringing their cases to IRS’s Office of Appeals. Its mission is to resolve disputes in a timely manner that is fair to the government and taxpayer. Among other things, we found: information on the length of the appeals process was not readily available, making it hard for taxpayers to know w...
GAO-18-432T: Published: Mar 7, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2018.
GAO's prior work and Social Security Administration's (SSA) strategic plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 highlight significant demographic and technological challenges facing the agency. For example, SSA's workloads are increasing due to 80 million baby boomers entering their disability-prone and retirement years, and institutional knowledge and leadership at SSA will be depleted due to an expected 2...
GAO-17-597: Published: Jul 25, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 2017.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has reduced its physical footprint and expanded delivery of services remotely, including online. SSA reduced the total square footage of its facilities by about 1.4 million square feet (or about 5 percent) from fiscal years 2012 to 2016, according to GAO's analysis, by applying new standards for determining the size of offices and consolidating facilities (...
GAO-17-186: Published: Jan 31, 2017. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2017.
Taxpayers rely on IRS to help them comply with the tax code and file their taxes. Although IRS improved its telephone service during the 2016 tax filing season, service year-round was not as good. We also looked at how IRS helps taxpayers who are victims of ID theft refund fraud—wherein fraudsters pose as taxpayers and file returns seeking refunds. IRS has improved aspects of service for victim...
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...