Recent Trump administration emphasis on customer-centered government may also have the side effect of empowering federal employees to have more involvement in agency improvements, according to government officials who spoke at a Partnership for Public Service event July 12.

“Employees have been conditioned that their opinion doesn’t matter, and they don’t offer that opinion. So they just kind of stick their head in the turtle shell and show up every day,” said Joe Doyle, director of the Office of Customer Experience at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Every employee must see themselves in the picture. They need to be asked, they need to be valued, they need to be talked to.”

According to Doyle, USDS is now operating a Customer Experience Champions program, where department heads nominate an employee to seek out and aggregate problems and solutions from both customers and fellow feds. The champions then meet once every two weeks to discuss how to improve customer experience across the agency.

“What we’re doing is employee led. We will be asking the people on the front lines why they have difficulty meeting the needs of the customers, and we will be acting on their feedback and fixing it in real time, not waiting months and months to do so,” said Doyle.

In fact, when the agency rolled out the “Tell Sonny” program, named for Secretary Sonny Purdue, for members of the public to offer potential improvements to their interactions with USDA, 22 percent of the responses were from federal employees.

“We’re talking now about maybe creating a separate site that is just oriented toward employees. And maybe because [Abraham] Lincoln started this it’s ‘Tell Abe’ or something,” said Doyle. “But it would be a place for employees, a safe place for employees to go.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also developed a program for surveying employees about how their job can be made easier.

“We have monthly senior leadership meetings with employees where we do brown bag lunches and things like that to interact. But we also have an employee satisfaction survey, we just finished it, called ELVIS,” said Kimberly Brandt, principal deputy administrator for operations at CMS.

“We are currently using all of that to create something called ‘CMS Life,’ which are changes that we’re making. Simple things like getting more checkers for the cafeteria at lunch time so you don’t have to wait quite as long, making it so the gym maybe has longer hours or better hours.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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