Document Name: The General Public (5 of 23)
Date: 09/01/94
Owner: National Performance Review
Title: Standards for Our Customers: The General Public (5 of 23)

Author: Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review

Date: September, 1994


CUSTOMER GROUP: The General Public


Bureaucracy. Red tape. Rigmarole. The runaround. Paperwork.

Administrivia. There are a lot of names for the cumbersome way

government does business, a way that seems designed to drive people

crazy. How many times have you needed a simple piece of information

on a government product or service and not known who to call, where

to begin? If interacting with the federal government leaves you

muttering to yourself, you're not alone: 80 percent of Americans

don't trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the


A lot of people in Los Angeles, California, are part of the other 20

percent. On January 17, 1994, an earthquake that measured 6.7 on the

Richter Scale rocked Northridge and the rest of the Los Angeles area.

Total damage was calculated in billions of dollars. The devastation

of the quake closed the Santa Monica Freeway, L.A.'s busiest.

Thousands of families were forced out of their homes.

When President Clinton declared the earthquake a federal emergency,

the people of Los Angeles became customers of the Federal Emergency

Management Agency. Working together with the Department of

Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the

Federal Highway Administration, and state and local officials, FEMA

responded not with hoops to jump through but with aid.

A central processing office was set up at Redwood City to process

applications for assistance. When the office opened on January 22,

the paper flooded in. Chal Overdorff and his staff dealt with it.

With the help of new technology to estimate damage and determine

payments, and by working around the clock, Overdorff and his staff

have cut almost 400,000 checks -- the most in the history of FEMA for

a single disaster.

Much of FEMA's work couldn't be done in an office. Outreach leader

Tim Richardson and his partner discovered an 80-year-old woman still

living in her mobile home, even though it had been shaken off its

blocks and was teetering on its hitch. She was frightened by

aftershocks and was out of water. Richardson's team helped get her to

safety, registered her for assistance, got her in touch with crisis

counselors, and found a contractor to repair her home. She's back in

her house now and doing fine.


FEMA's work produced thousands of thank-you's like this one:

The earthquake on January 17, 1994, shook everyone in the city badly.

Emotionally, I was in very bad shape for about two weeks. It took my

family and myself about three months to get our home back into pre-

quake condition although we have lost many irreplaceable items. I

still suffer from occasional nightmares. FEMA, the SBA, everyone we

dealt with from the government was extremely helpful, understanding,

and I have never seen bureaucracy move this fast and this

efficiently. Thank you very much for all your help.


This is quite a comeback from the shots that FEMA took after

hurricane Andrew in 1992. The agency is publishing standards that try

to build on its success in Los Angeles.

No Bigger Job


Think about the job of the U.S. Postal Service: collect, sort, and

cancel 177 billion pieces of mail each year. Deliver to over 122

million homes, stores, post office boxes, and businesses every day.

Operate 40,000 post offices across the country. It's hard to think of

an organization that has more contact with the public.

In last September's report of the National Performance Review, the

Postal Service presented standards based on its customers' input

about what is important. It set standards of overnight delivery of

local First Class Mail and three-day delivery of cross-country mail.

It committed to a program to cut the wait in offices to "five minutes

or less." It also pledged to provide a postal information phone

system, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So how are things going? To date 81 cities have the 24-hour

information phone service. Three-quarters of the 40,000 post offices

across the country now offer counter service in five minutes or less.

And on-time delivery is at 82 percent across the country and exceeds

90 percent in some cities -- Des Moines, Long Beach, Spokane, and


But the Postal Service reported that in tests in the Washington area

this spring and summer, only 50 to 60 percent of deliveries were on

time. Similar problems surfaced in Chicago and Tennessee. Worse,

postal inspectors acting on Postmaster General Runyon's orders to

check things out found millions of pieces of delayed mail at two

Washington, D.C., post offices. The Postal Service clearly wasn't

meeting its standards in these places.

The leaders took action. They brought in proven managers and added

employees on the street and in the front line. Hundreds of people

worked overtime to reduce the backlog. At the top, the Postal Service

has a new chief operating officer -- Bill Henderson, who had met

customer service standards in his job as Division Manager for North


Is the problem fixed? No; clearly there's more to do. Service has

improved, but not to the level that the Postal Service wants. So

what's the lesson? Did the Postal Service make a mistake setting

standards in the first place? Absolutely not.

In the old days, before standards and performance measurements, the

Postal Service might not have even known where to look for problems.

If it heard complaints, the brouhaha would likely have resulted in

more rules for workers to follow. Now it has regular measurement of

both customer satisfaction and on-time delivery by Opinion Research

and Price Waterhouse. Today it knows where to look for problems and

is working to solve them. This is exactly the point of setting

standards -- to get agencies to focus on what their customers want

and take action when they come up short.

For the future, the Postal Service has reaffirmed its commitment to

the standards in last year's report of the National Performance



Highlights from Customer Service Standards:

U.S. Postal Service

--- Your First Class Mail will be delivered anywhere in the United

States within three days.

--- Your local First Class Mail will be delivered overnight.

--- You will receive service at post office counters within five


--- You can get postal information 24 hours a day by calling a local



Good Afternoon -- Here's Your Stuffed Fish and Telephone Bill


The August 31, 1994, Washington Post reported on a test of the mail

delivery system that the National Enquirer had carried out -- and on

the subsequent reaction of Postmaster General Marvin Runyon:

To test the mail system, the tabloid newspaper put addresses on a

coconut, false teeth, boxer shorts, a rubber snake, a soda can and a

stuffed fish. All were delivered, Runyon said. "It was a crazy test,

one we don't recommend others replicate," he said. "But I do agree

with the Enquirer's verdict: The Postal Service really delivers."

Protecting the Public


Much of the government has as its job protecting the public -- its

seat belts, its food, its children's toys, its drinking water -- the

list goes on. Many agencies whose role is protecting the general

public have already signed up to improve customer service.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has many programs

with a single life-saving aim: to give us all a better chance to get

where we need to go safely. To make safety information widely

available, the agency operates an Auto Safety Hotline, a toll-free

telephone service. Hotline callers get information on motor vehicle

recalls and safety defect investigations. Hotline operators are

trained to answer vehicle and traffic safety questions. They take

consumer complaints about possible safety defects and assist callers

who are having difficulty obtaining repair work for existing recalls.

Callers can also request safety literature. The service is available

to the hearing impaired through teleprinter (TDD) connections.


Highlights from Customer Service Standards:

National Highway Traffic safety administration


--- Your calls are important and will be answered promptly. If you

have trouble reaching one of our operators, call after 6 p.m. and

leave a message on the answering machine. We will call you back the

next business day. You will not be put on hold for longer than two


--- You will be given the most complete and accurate information


--- By December 1994, NHTSA will use its fax-on-demand service to

provide you with fact sheets and information within 24 hours.

Consumer Product safety commission


Call the CPSC Hotline at 1-800-638-2772 to report an unsafe product,

report a product-related injury, receive information on product

recalls and repairs/replacements, and learn what to look for in

purchases. Customer service standards are:

--- Answer your call 7 days a week/24 hours a day.

--- Provide easy-to-follow instructions in English or Spanish, or in

another language during working hours.

--- Take information quickly, accurately, and courteously.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration


OSHA receives many complaints from employees about unsafe working

conditions and has established these customer service standards for


--- OSHA currently schedules inspections, on average, within 18 days

of an employee's complaint of a serious hazard and 26 days of an

other than serious hazard. . . . We will reduce the average time.

--- OSHA will ensure that employees have the opportunity to

participate in inspections.

--- We will complete investigations for those employees who believe

they are being discriminated against for exercising their rights to

request or participate in investigations within 90 days.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission's mission is also to protect

the public -- against unreasonable risk of injury from consumer

products. Commission Chair Ann Brown has stepped up media efforts to

get the word out quickly about dangerous products. She appears

regularly on shows like "Good Morning America" to announce product

recalls and inform the public. The commission also operates a hotline

as a service to its customers and is setting standards for the


If you aren't sure what to do with frozen food when your power fails,

you can get help from the Food Safety and Inspection Service's toll-

free hotline (1-800-535-4555). This 24-hour hotline is part of the

service's commitment to open communications and develop more

productive working relation-ships with the public, industry,

academia, state and local governments, and the media. The service

also inspects over 6,000 meat and poultry plants to ensure that their

products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled.

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect the

environment today and for future generations. EPA is reinventing

itself to communicate better with customers and get customer inputs

to EPA decisions. As EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner says, "An

informed and involved local community will make better environmental

decisions than a distant bureaucracy." EPA is publishing standards

that include responding to letters within five working days, and it

has set up a hotline (1-800-535-0202) to respond to questions about

waste management, underground storage tanks, chemical accident

prevention, and Superfund sites.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes care of its

job -- protecting the health and safety of American workers --

through partnerships with employees, employers, and state and local

governments. OSHA's customers number more than 100 million workers

and over 6 million employers. In OSHA's customer surveys, workers

expressed a need for better hazard information and training.

Employers asked for better information on what they had to do to

comply with OSHA requirements. OSHA has developed aggressive programs

to get more information out, involve workers more in the inspection

process, and assist employers.

Talking to Your Government


You call a toll-free number and you get the help you need. That's not

too much to expect in 1994. You get it from American Express. You get

it from American Airlines. You should get no less from American


The Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and

other federal agencies are finding out that Americans increasingly

let their fingers do the walking. As a result, these agencies are

studying how corporate America serves its customers over the phone.

Agencies are learning the most efficient ways to deal with surges in

calling, like when Social Security checks go out each month or when

April 15 rolls around. Top businesses also have a lot to teach about

giving the people who answer the phones quick access to information

and the authority to make decisions so that they can solve customers'

problems and really be of service. Reinventing government means

equaling the best in business; phone service is no exception.



Dear President Clinton:

We are establishing standards for telephone service that include

promptness, courtesy, and accuracy. With industry leaders as a model,

we are making progress. But we still have much to do. We believe we

can give the American people the telephone service they deserve. We

promise to work hard to achieve this goal and report progress to you

in September 1995.

Hon. Shirley Chater, Comissioner, Social Security Administration

Hon. Roger Johnson, Administrator, General Services Administration

Hon. James B. King, Director, Office of Personnel Management

Hon. Margaret M. Richardson, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service

Hon. Doris Meissner, Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization


Hon. Mary A. Ryan, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs,

Department of State

Dr. Harry A. Scarr, Acting Director, Bureau of the Census

Paying Taxes


Most people would just as soon not be customers of the Internal

Revenue Service. Like it or not, we need the IRS to collect revenue.

The good news is that the IRS believes it can do a better job

collecting taxes by viewing us all as customers. The idea is that

better customer service will increase voluntary compliance.

Thinking of us all as customers is changing things at the IRS. For

over a decade, the IRS put top priority on getting tax booklets to us

right after January 1. But a customer survey showed that minimizing

contact with the IRS was the true priority of taxpayers. Taking this

input to heart, the IRS is finding ways to cut down on contact.

One project is developing a system that gives citizens one tax

interface with all levels of government. The Social Security

Administration and the IRS are working together so businesses and

individuals need to supply wage data only once for all tax collection

agencies -- federal, state, and local. Twelve states will participate

in the program this year and 11 more in 1995.


Highlights from Customer Service Standards:

Internal Revenue Service

These are samples of the customer service standards from the IRS.

Expect to see these and other standards in your tax booklets for 1994


--- If you file a complete and accurate tax return and you are due a

refund, your refund will be issued within 40 days if you file a paper

return or within 21 days if you file electronically.

--- Our goal is to resolve your account inquiries with one contact.

To reach that goal, we will make improvements yearly.

--- If you have a problem that has not been resolved through normal

processes, you may contact our Problem Resolution Office. A

caseworker will contact you within one week and will work with you to

resolve the problem.

--- If you provide sufficient and accurate information to our tax

assistors but are given and reasonably rely on an incorrect answer,

we will cancel related penalties.

--- We will make tax forms and instructions easier and simpler for

you to use. We made some good changes this year, but we want your

ideas for future improvements. Please call us at 1-800-829-3676 --

available nine hours each business day -- or you can write us at

Internal Revenue Service, Attention: Tax Forms Committee, PC:FP,

Washington, D.C. 20224.


Paying taxes can never be painless, but it can be less painful. In

some states, taxpayers will be able to file by phone this year

through a program called Telefile. Residents of Florida, Indiana,

Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia that are

filing a 1040 EZ and have a touch-tone phone will have the Telefile

option for 1994 taxes. Service through Telefile is available 24 hours

a day, seven days a week. With Telefile, filing your tax return may

end up as easy as calling Domino's.

Buying Money


Unlike the Internal Revenue Service, everyone would like to be a

customer of the U.S. Mint -- a repeat customer, in fact. And,

directly or indirectly, almost every American is already a U.S. Mint

customer. The mint produces the nation's supply of coins for trade

and commerce, plus special issues and investment coins. In addition,

the mint sees 600,000 tourists a year at its Philadelphia and Denver

sites and has a customer mailing list of 2 million coin collectors.


Highlights from Customer Service Standards:

U.S. Mint

--- Your orders will be shipped within four weeks of receipt.

--- Your inquiries will be answered with one-stop service.

--- Your calls will be returned within one working day.


You may cancel your order anytime prior to shipment.


The mint has taken customer service principles to heart. First, it is

listening to its front-line employees' ideas on how to improve

service. As a result of an employee suggestion, mint employees now

call coin collectors and other customers directly if an expiration

date is missing from a credit card order. In the past, such an order

would have been rejected and returned to the customer for correction,

causing further delay.

The mint is also one of a few government agencies that have customer

service reps. At the mint, the reps alert customers of sellouts and

take credit card orders by phone. In addition, the mint is examining

the best in business -- companies such as Black & Decker, T. Rowe

Price, Lenox China and Crystal, the Royal Mint of Great Britain, and

Vanguard Mutual Funds -- for ideas that it can apply to its own


Helping Americans Invest


Peter Lynch may be telling you to "beat the street," but the

Securities and Exchange Commission wants to make sure you have a

level playing field. The SEC protects investors by enforcing federal

securities laws and regulating securities markets. Individual and

institutional investors have trillions invested in securities and

mutual funds in the United States and abroad. While the SEC does not

approve or guarantee any investments, it does make sure that

securities issuers fully disclose material information to investors

and markets adhere to fair standards.

As part of its commitment to service, the Securities and Exchange

Commission is conducting customer surveys throughout the country

covering a wide range of topics; the results have proven surprising

in some cases. Misconceptions about mutual funds purchased through

banks are especially worrisome. Most mutual funds sold through banks

are not federally insured, yet 28 percent of the respondents to a

recent SEC survey thought they were. Similarly, money market mutual

funds bought through a bank are not federally insured, yet 66 percent

of the survey's respondents who have bought these funds through banks

thought otherwise. Since many people don't understand these risks,

the SEC is mounting a campaign to get the word out. A new series of

educational brochures titled Invest Wisely are part of this. One

brochure will focus on mutual funds, covering investment basics and

warning of pitfalls. The SEC is also using focus groups to find out

more about what its customers value.
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