National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Conversations with America

Summary: October and November, 1998

Look Who's Talking Now!

Federal agencies are not only talking to you, their customers; they're encouraging you to talk back. That's right. Whether via a verbal or written format, federal agencies want to hear what services are most important to you and what they can do to improve them. Whether handled by face-to-face, written, telephone or electronic media, agencies are using most every form of communications known to mankind to have conversations with folks such as you, your family, and your friends. This is the result of an Executive Memorandum known as Conversations with America, signed by President Clinton on March 3, 1998. It directs federal agencies to increase the number of two-way dialogues they have with their customers, finding out what is most important to them and also ways that they can improve the services that they provide.

So, whether you reside in New York City, San Francisco or somewhere in between, you have a say on how your government can work better and cost less. With the help of two-way conversations such as town hall forums, online chats, satellite broadcasts and customer satisfaction surveys (just to name a few), federal agencies are listening and using what they hear to make improvements in their services to you. Conversations are also occurring in informal settings such as labor union meetings, annual picnics, and fairs, while others are open to the public. Some are to discuss very specific issues, while others are open to topics of interest to the attendees. But remember what really matters most, is that your government is not only talking, but they're listening.

Vice President Gore's National Partnership on Reinventing Government features, bi-monthly, those federal departments or agencies that publicize their conversations. Let's take a look at who's talking now.

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
Independent Agencies
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • National Credit Union Administration
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
  • Railroad Retirement Board
  • Social Security Administration
  • Small Business Administration
While two-way conversations can take place in many forms, for a matter of simplicity, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government has categorized Conversations with America into four areas. They are as follows.
  • Face to Face Conversations
  • Electronic Conversations
  • Written Conversations
  • Telephone Conversations
Here's a sampling of conversations that are happening all across America. Keep in mind that once you've perused the following information, you can find more detailed facts, dates, locations and contacts on specific conversations by visiting the National Partnership for Reinventing Government webpage on Conversations with America. Once there, click on the agencies that are of interest to you.

Face to Face Conversations

At the Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons in Boston, Massachusetts, the Food and Drug Administration participated in a two-way discussion to develop workable standards for manufacturers and regulators of medical devices, breast implants and lipoplasty. Participants in this discussion, which was held in October, included over 200 plastic surgeons and lipoplasty equipment manufacturers.

The Social Security Administration has instituted the Ambassador training program throughout the agency. This gives employees the tools to host conversations with their customers regarding general Social Security matters as well as the solvency issue. As a result of this program many Social Security Administration employees participate in weekly question and answer presentations in their community, submit informational pieces to local newspapers and participate in radio and television call-in and talk shows. By the year 2002, 9 out of 10 customers should be aware of the Social Security Program and the issues of concern for all Americans.

The Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency held a public meeting in October to gather input for the development of a comprehensive strategic Federal food safety plan. The purpose of this meeting was to obtain the public's view on a long-term vision for food safety in the U.S. and to identify a strategic planning process, goals and critical steps as well as potential barriers to achieving that vision. This meeting was held in response to the to 1997 Report to the President entitled Food Safety: From Farm to Table.

The Office of Personnel Management conducted focus groups, in conjunction with the Gallup Organization and the Institute for Family-Centered Care on the Family Friendly Initiative, to gain feedback on whether the benefits offered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for families are meeting their needs.

The Food and Drug Administration hosted a National Consumer Forum in Washington, D.C., in October, for 100 people representing organizations for older Americans to address issues of particular concern to seniors.

The Department of Commerce's Office of Technology has developed a new on-going outreach program entitled Tech Talks to reward outstanding current technology innovators and inspire future ones. These regional talks highlight the importance of technology to economic growth and personal achievement, and seek future generations to pursue math, science, technology and engineering careers. Tech Talks are lead by National Medal of Technology winners (recipients of the President's National Medal of Technology), and high profile innovators and business leaders.

The Department of the Interior's Policy Group holds monthly meetings, with representatives from the Federal and California State governments, and the local environmental, agriculture and urban communities to evaluate potential long-term solutions for improving the ecosystem health and improve the water management of the Bay-Delta Systems.

On November 17 and 18 in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs is sponsoring its sixth Intergovernmental Information Sharing Meeting to facilitate and encourage the nationwide sharing of criminal justice information. This initiative is the state and local segment of the Vice President's Access America A07 Global Criminal Justice Information Network initiative. Five similar meetings were held throughout October and early November in other locations across the country.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a meeting on November 7 and 8, with medical device firms and FDA representatives, to foster mutual understanding of the new medical device quality systems regulations, design validation and inspection activities. The goal of this meeting was to explore ways to resolve compliance problems related to the new regulations. FDA also asked for both immediate and continuing feedback on industry needs and problems, and will adjust its procedures to meet industry concern, where feasible and consistent with the public health. The Department of Energy (DOE) fosters an effective channel of two-way communication between the Federal government and Colorado's Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Advisory Board to gather community input. This input is used to set budgets, establish priorities and schedules, and make future decisions regarding DOE's cleanup of the area.

The Office for Victims of Crime within the Department of Justice sponsored a focus group in Assisting Victims of Campus Crime, to produce an in-depth report that outlines the major issues, gaps in services, and promising practices in serving victims of campus crimes. In attendance, were representatives from the victim assistance and advocacy community, research field, campus safety organizations, local law enforcement and prosecution communities, federal and state higher education policy groups, student advocacy groups, Violence Against Women Office, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Institute of Justice, and Violence Against Women Grants Office.

In October, Department of Transportation officials hosted several listening sessions to provide, to its transportation stakeholders and partners, an opportunity to express their views and concerns regarding the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century prior to its implementation.

The Department of Justice's Native American and the Alaskan Native Affairs Desk, in October, sponsored Crime and Justice Research in Indian Country: Strategic Planning Meeting. The purpose of this meeting, which was held in Oregon, was to develop a research strategy on crime and justice in Indian Country. Researchers, tribal practitioners, and federal employees were invited to assist in developing the research agenda.

Electronic Conversations

The fall, the Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy launched a new program called Online Mentoring to encourage students to explore the world of science and technology. This program is designed to offer technical guidance to K-12 students who are in search of expert advice on pursing a career in science, engineering or other technology-related fields. All communications will be coordinated using e-mail, and questions will usually be responded to within a 10-day period. Recipients of the President's National Medal of Technology, America's highest honor for technological innovations are serving as mentors for this program.

The Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in conjunction with the Department of Education, sponsored a live national satellite broadcast of President Clinton's White Conference on School Safety. Its purpose was to promote and provide information about school safety issues, illustrate model approaches and programs, discuss steps to comprehensive school safety planning and explore ways of linking safe schools to communities. It included a policy address by the President, panel discussions, and an audience participation session that explored the best practices and model school safety strategies. Audience participants included teachers, school leaders, parents, judges, prosecutors and many others interested in school safety issues.

The Office of the Comptroller's Home Page within the Department of Justice, houses the AskOC Internet address and comptroller's Financial Guide. This web site offers administrators of the Department of Justice's 26,000 active grant awards a place to go for on-line responses to questions related to grant financial management. Responses to questions are usually provided within one day.

The Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration has set up an electronic mailbox for the Assistant Secretary to obtain ideas, comments, suggestions, or anything else that relate to miners, mine operators or the general public.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) invites anyone who visits their web site during October and November to submit feedback through the Talk to Us section. During this period, CPSC will respond to those questions or issues that require an explanation.

The Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance launched a major new initiative to develop an Electronic Roadmap for Evaluation of its services to state administrative agencies, researchers and evaluators, and local criminal justice practitioners. The public is encouraged to contact the Bureau with questions and comments about the evaluation.

Written Conversations

The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in conjunction with the Ad Council, will conduct an omnibus survey of 1,000 adults this fall to identify what motivates people to drink and drive. Results of the survey will be used to support a media outreach campaign.

The Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has developed a bi-monthly newsletter for its more than 2,000 CD-ROM customers. The newsletter focuses on information pertaining to PTO's Optical Disc Publishing Program products and services. The first issues of the newsletter included a customer response card, which invited customers to submit questions and comments related to the newsletter and/or issues it featured.

The U.S. Forest Service continually uses customer service comment cards to address gaps in their existing services, business practices, operations, and facilities. These cards are also used to provide a means to address customers complaints.

The Office of Personnel Management's Retirement and Insurance Service will conduct its an annual Client Satisfaction Survey this fall. The survey measures customer satisfaction including the quality and timeliness of the services it offers. Respondents are pooled from retirees, survivors or beneficiaries who have transacted with OPM during the last year.

The U.S. Forest Service will complete customer satisfaction surveys of its Law Enforcement, Fish and Wildlife and Fire programs this fall. To prepare for these surveys, the Forest Service identifies its customers, and participates in focus groups and conferences calls with many of them to ensure that survey questions will be appropriate for their audiences. Upon completion of the surveys each participating site is required to develop an action plan for improving its customer service based on the results of the survey.

The National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) Northeast Region's Regional Administrator participated in a call-in show, as the vice chair of the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board, to showcase and discuss local federal government services and improvements made to these services.

The Department of Commerce's International Trade Information Center mailed out its first round of Customer Service Satisfaction Surveys in October. Each year customer service plans will be developed based on survey findings.

Telephone Conversations

The Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office established a toll-free call center to provide the general public with general information about the patent and trademark systems via telephone, mail, and fax. This center will serve approximately one million customers annually.

The Department of Commerce's Trade Information Center established a nationwide toll-free hotline (1-800-USA-Trad) to offer assistance to companies seeking export assistance from the Federal Government. It is expected that 23 International Trade Specialists will answer between 1,500 and 2,000 phone calls, e-mails, faxes and written correspondence per week.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission operates a hotline for customers who seek Commission information on recalled and other hazardous products, activities, programs and publications. Information gained from the hotline calls is used to improve the Commission's customer service.

The Department of Commerce's Statistics Bureau (STAT USA) operates a toll-free sales, information and technical support operation for its customers from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time Monday through Friday. Four staff members handle all phone queries as well as e-mails and faxes. The STAT USA Call Center also includes a four question "How did we do?" comment form with any faxes sent to customers.

The Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention provides information to practitioners, researchers, policymakers, youth advocates, and the general public about its programs and services via a toll free number. Callers to this toll free number are provided with an option allowing them to provide feedback or to voice their concerns.

The Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) maintains a toll-free customer service number (1-800-704-0415) to facilitate the ordering of BEA products and the communication of problems, complaints, and suggestions. Calls are handled by BEA's Public Information Office.

The National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) Northeast Region's Regional Administrator for Records Services participated in a call-in show to showcase NARA's services and to field questions on how the agency can improve its services and products.

The Department of Justice's Office of the Comptroller located in the Office of Justice Programs established a new Customer Service Center to administer 26,000 active grant awards. The center is a new government/private partnership, which operates eight hours a day. Contracted operators respond to routine calls immediately upon receipt.

Here are a few examples of how agencies combined several types of conversations to engage in a two-way dialogue with their customers.

The Department of Transportation hosted the second annual East Coast Small Business Conference in October to increase business opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses, as well as increase women-owned and small business participation in the procurement process. Attendees participated in breakout sessions relating to the Broad Information Technology Service contract, Federal Aviation Administration's National Air Space Architecture, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise opportunities at airports and a session on how to resolve contract disputes. Participants were encouraged to offer feedback to the FAA via evaluation forms and surveys.

In October, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Economic Analysis released the summation of its estimates of State Personal Income to the press and to 230 state officials and analysts. The Bureau then fielded questions in person, by phone and e-mail, and through the BEA web site regarding the estimates.

The Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy developed a web site so that they could respond to a multitude of questions regarding Information Technology training, education, jobs and curricula development. Visitors to the site are encouraged to add their comments to the "Help Us Make This Site Better" section. You can check out their new web site, unveiled at a Seattle Town Hall meeting.

To find out more about what agencies are doing to engage their customers in conversations, you might want to explore the links to their web sites from this page. By doing so, you'll gain more in-depth knowledge on how the Conversations with America initiative is helping your government to work better and cost less by improving its services to its customers such as yourself.

This summary of Conversations with America events was prepared by Leslie Schwager, National Partnership for Reinventing Government. You may reach her at (202) 694-0107 or

November 1998

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