The U.S. Department of the Interior had the highest customer satisfaction rating among federal agencies in a report surveying public perceptions of government.
Based on interviews with more than 2,000 random members of the public, the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked agencies based on four drivers of citizen satisfaction: efficiency, clear information, professionalism and website quality.
It was good news for Interior, whose high marks may be explained by many respondents having visited national parks and looking favorably on the affordable, enjoyable experience the department maintains, according to the Jan. 31 report.
The Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Justice, and Commerce also scored above the government’s average satisfaction score.
Two scored well below: the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury. The Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services fell just slightly behind the average.
“Treasury lags behind in citizen satisfaction but given its primary citizen-facing mission is tax collection, this lower rating is not entirely unexpected,” according to the report.
Overall, general satisfaction with the federal government rose last year, breaking a four-year long nose dive of scores, whose decreases were likely exacerbated by a fraught presidential election and public health crisis in 2020 and 2021. The report tracks scores since 1999 and reveals perspectives on governance have fluctuated over time, even within administration years.
“While the big gains in 2022 have erased much of the negative movement that began in 2017, aggregate citizen satisfaction with the federal government remains below pre-COVID-19 levels,” said Forrest Morgeson, director of research emeritus at ACSI, in a statement.
Scores for customer service and quality of federal websites decreased, though other categories saw improvements. Efficiency of government processes and clarity of information both improved by a few percentage points in 2022.
Agencies are at a reflection point now with the pandemic’s severity waning and government processes either returning to normal or settling into new adaptations. Some agencies transitioned to remote work environments with ease while others had to troubleshoot personnel shortages and straggling technology.
With the Biden administration poised to end the pandemic emergency declaration in May and the new Congress slated to review the federal government’s response to the crisis, public feedback is also adding perspectives on what went well, what failed and what pandemic-era provisions ought to be made permanent.
“As was the case with the private sector, COVID-19 significantly stressed the federal government’s ability to effectively offer services to citizens, and ultimately eroded happiness with these services. The satisfaction gains in 2022 reversed much of this erosion,” Morgeson said in a statement.
Satisfaction varies with political affiliation
The report also noted that the “hyperpartisan political landscape” has intensified the effect political stances have on perceptions of government services, even those that are “apolitical.”
Nonetheless, between Republicans, Democrats and other party supporters, all three groups reported improved satisfaction from 2021 to 2022. Independents reported no change.
Democrats’ approval ratings surged especially, which may account for this year’s overall increase.
Republicans’ satisfaction scores this year were the highest in the last three years.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.