For understandable reasons, the government has long sought to satisfy America's taxpayers, to assure them that it is spending their money wisely and economically. But Americans relate to their government not just as taxpayers but in another fundamental way: as "customers," that is, as users of government's goods and services. Social Security recipients, business owners, veterans, disaster victims, unemployed workers, visitors to national parks--these are all customers of one agency or another.
In the last year Agencies have begun to set customer service standards and to survey customers to find out what they want and need. The government has begun to use the revolutionary tool of information technology to better serve customers.
An interagency task force has developed a plan by which government will begin to use electronic benefits transfer (EBT) to cut costs and reduce fraud in delivering more than $100 billion in benefits a year. Agencies are working together in the trade arena, helping to better serve companies that want to crack foreign markets.
To be sure, recent customer service problems at the Postal Service and elsewhere bring to mind the hurdles that remain. Nevertheless, progress to date amounts to an incipient revolution in the very nature of how government relates to the American people.