National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Conversations with America

December and January, 1998

Look Who's Still Talking!

In November, we said that Federal agencies are not only talking to you, their customers, they're encouraging you to talk back! And that's still the case. They want to know what services are most important to you and what they can do to improve them. What's changed? Well, in the not so distant future, as part of our Conversations with America initiative, we will share with you more of what agencies did with what they heard, and less of the types of conversations they are holding. We're making the paradigm shift: Federal agencies not only listening to customers, but working to make changes in products, processes, and services based on what they've heard. Here are a few examples of how this is happening:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking at ways to improve their Excellence and Leadership Process (XL Process), a presidential initiative aimed at those public and private sector entities achieving superior environmental performance in exchange for flexibility from the EPA. For example, company X knows that they can develop a more environmentally-safe product, but due to an EPA regulation that mandates the use of a particular process in the development of that product, they are unable to develop the more environmentally-safe one. However, through the XL Process, EPA can offer some flexibility in the development process in exchange for superior environmental performance.

    Last year the Environmental Protection Agency hosted several meetings with stakeholder groups to discuss ways to streamline the XL Process. They used the information to make improvements in the XL process and instruction materials. In December, these same stakeholders were brought together to review and discuss the improvements made. According to a spokesperson from the EPA, "the Agency recognizes the need to be in touch with its customers. It strives to ensure that dialogue and involvement are part of the way it does its work." And that's what Conversations with America is all about.

  • The Railroad Retirement Board has committed a group of agency employees to looking at ways to systematically capture and analyze the feedback from their Conversations with America, and use this information to help improve services they provide.

  • The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) held five regional Customer Focus Groups between April and October 1998 in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis and Cleveland to discuss the agency's 1997 national customer service survey. Survey data and responses from the focus groups are being compiled and will be forwarded to the FMCS Director and Deputy Director for their review. Any issues, which would require a change in policy, will be forwarded to the Director's Policy Advisory Council and the Mediator Partnership Council for review and formulation of recommendations.

We've said it before and we'll say it again...

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) your government is not only talking-- but they're listening as well!

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

  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Interior
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs

Independent Agencies

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Railroad Retirement Board
While two-way conversations can take place in many forms, 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 current and future conversations that are happening all across America. Keep in mind that once you've perused the following information, you may find more detailed facts, dates, locations and contacts on specific conversations by visiting our website at Once there, click on Conversations with America, then click on the agencies that are of interest to you.

Face to Face Conversations

From January through December 1999, the Department of Transportation Secretary together with aviation industry leaders, will convene listening sessions all across the country to learn more about and exchange information on various aspects of the aviation industry. The DOT Secretary, Federal Aviation Administrator and Members of Congress will use what was heard to develop a comprehensive policy on safety, security and increased efficiency for the nation's aviation system.

On January 22 and 23, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation will participate in a summit with national leaders from the law enforcement and prosecutorial arena to explore avenues to decrease aggressive driving and increase safety on the nation's highways.

Three Federal agencies - the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency- will host a meeting with Los Angeles community action groups and business leaders who seek to improve the quality of life for low income and minority communities. This continuing dialogue is a follow-up to environmental justice meetings held last October and July.

Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science will meet with Everglades Task Force members to discuss restudy issues. Feedback from the meeting will be used to initiate a dialogue for the restoration of the Everglades and to create better communication between the Federal government and the Florida State legislature.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation staffed an interactive exhibit in early December to both provide information and answer questions regarding the value of defined benefit pension plans and the need to improve the defined benefit system. Any feedback received at the exhibit will be given to agency managers to improve the Corporation's customer service.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary and other DOT officials will participate in the Transportation Research Board Annual meetings on January 10-15. This forum allows for the exchange of technology and research information that impacts the entire transportation industry. Approximately 8,000 participants from all over the world are expected to attend.

President Clinton directed the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture to create a joint institute for Food Safety Research (JIFSR). In December, the two secretaries, along with representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, co-sponsored a public meeting to solicit input from all interested individuals regarding the role of the new institute.

The Tennessee River Valley Authority (TVA) held a public meeting of the Board of Directors in December. At the conclusion of the meeting, the public was invited to ask questions and make comments on any TVA subject.

The Director of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Regional Office holds a monthly community meeting to insure that its members are aware of regional veterans affairs programs and to provide them an avenue to voice their ideas on the future director of the Regional Office.

In December, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) participated in seven meetings, held nationwide, with multi-stakeholder groups to discuss the Draft Unified National Animal Feeding Operations Strategy. These discussions will provide USDA and EPA with comments and reaction to the draft strategy, which addresses one of the nation's most significant water pollution challenges - controlling animal waste run-off.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting the Tribal Superfund Risk Assessment Conference in December at the request of tribal governments. These governments informed the EPA that the standard risk assessment methods, management techniques and protocols currently used by EPA do not account for the unique impacts, exposure routes and risks to tribes, nor do they consider tribal cultural values. This conference is an initial step in the development of a tribally appropriate risk assessment policy.

In December, the Department of Health and Human Services convened seven open forums on HIV/AIDS among women and ethnic minorities in Northern California. The forums were held nationwide to obtain information about the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on women and ethnic minorities in Nevada.

Electronic Conversations

The San Diego Veterans Affairs Regional Office regularly surveys its customers online. Their electronic survey, which measures satisfaction felt by customers who are filing claims for compensation for pension benefits, is available at

The Setting Priorities for Retirement Years (SPRY) organization is conducting an evaluation for the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research's (AHCPR) website. SPRY is evaluating the usefulness of the site for senior citizens. It is obtaining feedback at two locations through scripted online sessions and focus groups. This project builds on the foundation of two previous pilots conducted by SPRY.

Customers who visit the Veterans Rehabilitation and Counseling Division are asked to evaluate services provided by the Division by completing an electronic survey. The survey consists of a series of 10 questions that range from inquiries about our telephone service to our knowledge and ability to explain benefits and also our delivery of benefits.


The Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Planning and Policy Analysis hosted a conference call with State Attorney Generals and/or Environmental Commissioners from 25 states to discuss the results of EPA's review of the Agency's Voluntary Disclosure Policy (audit policy), and possible changes to the policy. A similar conference call was conducted with representatives of environmental groups on November 12.

On a monthly basis, the Veterans Administration's New York Regional Office conducts a telephone survey of 240 claimants who have contacted their office during the previous month either in writing, by phone or in person. As part of the Administration's "Balanced Scorecard", customer measures are an indicator of the publics' perception of the quality of service provided by the New York Regional Office. Therefore, survey data is used to determine the training needs of the Administration employees.


In January, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research will survey its customers to determine their level of satisfaction with existing services. The results of the survey will be published in the agency's monthly publication, Research Activities.

Here's how the Consumer Product Safety Commission combines electronic and telephone conversations to engage in a two-way dialogue with their customers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) small business ombudsman acts as a liaison to small businesses regulated by the agency. He provides one-stop shopping for plain-language technical assistance, advice, problem-resolution, and information on CPSC programs and regulations. Small business owners and managers contact him via the agency's toll-free hotline or by e-mail. He will respond to an estimated 70 inquiries from small businesses over the next two months. Information shared with the CPSC's ombudsman will be used to evaluate and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the agency's compliance processes and informational materials.

For more information, contact Leslie Schwager at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government at (202) 694-0107 or

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site