On December 13, the Biden administration issued an executive order aimed at finding new and better ways to improve the “customer” or citizen experience with government agencies. According to the ordinance, these efforts will be focused on “the modernization of programs, the reduction of administrative burdens and the piloting of new online tools and technologies that can offer a simple, transparent and secure customer experience”. It is an ambitious and important initiative that sets bold goals across a wide range of federal programs, from health to retirement, and from poverty to passports. He seeks to tackle some of the most pernicious challenges of government management, many of which were outlined in a compelling article by Annie Lowrey in Atlantic (“Time tax“) and echoed by President Biden when he signed the order.
As with any major reform effort, success will be defined in many ways and determined by many factors. But it is clear that early and swift “wins” are essential. The good news is that, despite the complexity of many of the challenges, the opportunities for these wins are available. The main thing is to identify them and jump on them without delay, but also to do it in a really strategic way.
Specifically, let’s not jump into fixing front-end apps and websites until we have fully defined everything that truly constitutes the citizen experience and what drives it. Any effort to improve the technology and tools available to citizens must not only be underpinned by a comprehensive assessment of the disaggregated range of critical citizen service programs, but also by an equally comprehensive assessment of business processes and policies. underlying principles that govern the programs themselves.
The statement by General Service Administration Administrator Robin Carnahan that “we’re going to fix these damn websites” is correct. But the real fixes, the real improvements to the entire customer experience, are more about the underlying processes and policies that govern the citizen or customer journey. This is both the hardest part of the puzzle and the one that pays the most.
That said, the pandemic has helped highlight some of the most glaring gaps in the delivery of services to citizens, particularly those that are federally funded and state administered. The lessons thus learned can serve as a basis for action. For example, pandemic-induced flexibilities that allowed state and local governments to hire part-time employees, rehire retirees, and contract private sector support for an extraordinary increase in overdue claims have expired. four months ago. Meanwhile, states and cities continue to face millions of backlogs associated with massive staff shortages (Denver now has just 70 case workers in its social services agency). Why has authority not been restored? After all, the demand is not going to go away and most experts estimate that it will take years to fully meet it.
In addition, there are already essential funds and opportunities to tackle other challenges, but they have not yet been implemented. For example, in the face of numerous reports of problems with the implementation of unemployment insurance programs (most of which involve organized technological forays as opposed to individual frauds), Congress has allocated more early this year $ 2 billion to modernize unemployment insurance and reduce fraud while improving access to benefits for job seekers. To date, only $ 140 million has been committed to states. Why? The systemic improvements enabled by the funds would go a long way to improving the experience for applicants during very difficult times.
Ultimately, thanks to these and other pandemic-related initiatives, we now know just how much flexibility it takes to pursue innovation through technology as well as multi-sector partnerships, many of which are currently. prohibited by federal administrative rules and limitations, perhaps. Making this flexibility permanent, within the confines of an immutable set of guardrails, all centered on the ethics of service to beneficiaries, would pay real dividends in a surprisingly short period of time and for decades to come.
President Biden’s order covers three dozen programs in 17 agencies. It could catalyze the most important reforms in decades of government management and, more importantly, the plethora of ways in which citizens interact with government at all levels. Its shear scope is exciting and full of potential. Some improvements, such as those described above, can be implemented quickly and help meet the decree’s directive that substantial results must be recognized within one year. But the truth is, it will take a lot longer to really gain a foothold in the complex and disaggregated array of programs and services. Quick fixes will not meet the mandate; smart strategy and long-term vision. President Biden provided the framework. Now let’s get to work.
Stan Soloway is President of Celero Strategies LLC and President of the Center for Accountability, Modernization and Innovation, which advocates for innovation in citizen services.