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Panel: Government-citizen interactions are in desperate need of modernization

July 13, 2017 (Photo Credit: Federal Times staff file)
The federal government lags behind the private sector in delivering an efficient customer experience, and several factors must be addressed to enhance agencies’ citizen-centered services, according to a panel of senior executives hosted by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service on Wed., July 12.

Coordinating action plans, legacy systems and effectively incorporating feedback are just some of the challenges facing the modernization of government-citizen interactions.

Moderating the discussion, Max Stier — president and CEO of the Partnership — introduced three panelists providing insight on how their departments deal with various CX improvement issues: Dr. Lynda Davis, chief veterans experience officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs; John Koskinen, commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service; and Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services with the U.S. Department of State.

Koskinen shared his emphasis on getting employees to focus on one issue as a priority. To get valuable feedback that helps translate plans into actions, employees will be given time to present their initiatives, arguing for their solutions. Afterwards, everyone gets the opportunity to vote, setting priorities for the whole agency by those running the agency. This idea allows everyone to get onto the same page and effectively focusing agency perspectives. Additionally, Koskinen mentioned the importance of responding to employee’s opinions, saying that the worst thing you could do after asking for an opinion is to ignore it. 

Dr. Davis addressed the problem of balancing technology operations to overcome generational differences by explaining how the Veterans Department tries to ensure all general information is easily accessible via phone and website. The belief is it should be simple for those seeking help and needing human interaction to be provided with that no matter how they seek it. 

Sprague went over detailed methods of project planning and participant coordination and the balancing act of modernizing the passport database without a breach. “If the Bank of America gets hacked, it’s bad; but if I get hacked, it’s the end of the world,” she explained.

Closing the discussion, Chris Liddell, assistant to the president and director of strategic initiatives with the White House Office of American Innovation, explained enterprises the group of three are leading. These are long-term, multiyear, multi-administration, strategic projects encompassing bipartisan ideals such as infrastructure, the workforce of the future and the modernization of government services. 

Liddell conceded that due to the fast pace of the private sector’s modernization the public sector’s progress seems to be immobile, but he stressed it is moving. To improve the rate of progress, his group has convened many individuals around certain themes creating a work in progress, and making sure to include concepts and individuals from the private sector. For cross-agency initiatives, which proved nearly impossible during the 2012 drafting of modernization practices, Liddell explained that the current thought process is to “create standards of excellence” across agencies while uniting them with a “central entity” – a process, he said, that is similar to how the private sector approaches the matter.

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