The Convenience of the Customer

After they asked customers what they wanted and set standards, many agencies had to do things differently so they could deliver what they promised. The customer service program is huge. It's customer service teams and customer service representatives and front-line employees in all federal agencies knowing they can truly make a difference and pounding away at the old ways of doing things. It's agency heads sitting down with their customers all over the country to find out what they think. It's federal employees and private sector partners benchmarking best practices in 1-800 service, complaint systems, and more, looking for ideas to improve government's service. It's the President's Management Council aligning planning, budgeting, and operating systems to make sure customer service is mainstream. (12) And we're starting to see results. Enough so that we know that in time we can turn the whole government around.

Here's an example: The Federal Emergency Management Agency had been a national disaster all by itself. Congress was seriously considering scuttling the agency because, when emergencies struck, FEMA was not much help to anyone. Part of the problem was the way FEMA -- was organized it had divisions for man-made disasters like riots or nuclear war, and divisions for natural disasters like floods or earthquakes. Each division had people and equipment that could not be used for another division's disaster. FEMA Director James Lee Witt stopped that, reorganizing FEMA into an "all-hazards" team. Other agencies also had to change the way they were organized once they started to concentrate on their customers' needs instead of their own.

In some cases, agencies have organized for the convenience of the customer by banding together. They developed one-stop shops, where the idea is for the government to get together so the customers no longer have to wander around. For example, Houston, Boston, Kansas City, and Atlanta now have a "U.S. General Store" offering almost any service from the federal government in one place, with state and local governments there, too. SBA is there for loans and advice. The IRS is there for help with tax questions. The agencies that don't have people in the stores have set up hot-lines to answer questions right away. This way, for example, EPA advice is easy to get. One-stop.

"Trading Post" meant one-stop for everything on the American frontier. Now the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, who often manage adjoining lands, are teaming up in new Trading Posts. Customers told the agencies it didn't make much sense for people to make two stops for maps, fishing information, woodcutting fees, and guide permits. So the agencies are moving in together. In Canon City, Colorado, they got the Colorado Division of Wildlife to join them, giving outdoor enthusiasts a better deal still.

And to gather firewood in Oregon, citizens can stop by the local convenience store, where they buy milk and bread, to buy a permit for federal wood, whether it grows in an Agriculture Department National Forest or a Bureau of Land Management area. We figured it out so the taxpayer doesn't have to.

There is no doubt that one-stop works for customers. Maybe that is how government services should have been put together in the first place.

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