National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Conversations with America

December and January, 1998

"Conversations with America" Gets Results!

So you’ve been talking and we’ve been listening. We’ve got the dialogue going, but what next? Well, remember in December we announced that we were 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? In short, it’s time to tell you what we did with what we got! Now by no means are we going to stop telling you about how or where we listen to you -- we just think that you should also know how much we value your opinions. As we work to "change government forever", we know we need your help. So here are a few ways we’re using information gathered from our partners, U.S. citizens, to help make this happen:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using information gathered from their August 1998 meeting with metropolitan sewage agencies in Region 4, to provide input to the policy on sanitary sewer overflow, combined sewer overflow, and allowable wet weather diversions. They are also using the information gathered to determine if underground injection control policies in the region are reflective of customer concerns and needs.

  • Feedback from EPA’s October 1998 American Heritage Rivers Symposium is being used to develop the southeast’s American Heritage Rivers Protection Plan.

  • EPA’s Center for Environmental Information and Statistics (CEIS), upon completion of their Customer Service Survey Plan, incorporated the following changes into the CEIS Web site based on what customers said they want and how they want to access it:

    • Employ simple, non-technical language;
    • provide local, county-level environmental data;
    • supply maps of EPA-regulated facilities;
    • make available data about emissions of these facilities;
    • provide different geographic scales;
    • offer cautionary notes about data quality and accuracy; and
    • provide a searchable library of environmental quality reports.

  • The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in 1997 and 1998 convened focus groups with Latino community-based organizations. By developing an open dialogue with the Latino community, a series of ideas surfaced on ways to improve communications with the Latino community that will be included in a soon-to-be published "OCSE Guide to Latino Customer Services."

  • In May 1998, ACF convened the Healthy Child Care America and Community Access to Children’s Health Summit to strategize on increasing the health of children in child-care settings, and the access children have to quality services. As a result of this national dialogue, ACF and its State and local partners are constructing a website to help people communicate effective approaches to support child health.

  • The ACF Region VII staff engaged in Conversations on Fatherhood with state social agencies and local human service networks who work with fathers and promote fathers’ carrying out their responsibilities to their children. These service providers were asked what they needed from the Administration for Children and Families to help them serve fathers more effectively. They indicated the need for a mechanism to share information about successful approaches to serving fathers. In response, ACF is posting the information to its website. The conversation with these providers helped ACF determine a course of action to support responsible fatherhood.

  • For the first time, callers can reach the Food and Drug Administration through a single phone number. The easy-to-use menus guide callers to recorded information, fax-on-demand options, or specific offices. A small staff of health professionals is currently available on a limited basis for callers requiring personal assistance with inquiries. This exceptional service is the direct outcome of feedback received from a 1997 customer satisfaction survey in which customers expressed a desire for easier ways to communicate with the agency.

  • In December 1998, FDA hosted a meeting of more than 50 northeastern agency employees and State health officials to explore ways to share information and responsibilities, to leverage limited resources, and to provide better service. This meeting grew out of requests from state officials nationwide to explore possible partnerships in epidemiology follow-ups, laboratory systems, information-sharing, and several other areas.

  • In response to customers and stakeholders requesting easier access to FDA, the agency has enhanced their "Contact Us" Internet home page button with links to a product review, regulatory and other offices special sections. The button lets them choose where their message will go. They may also select a "general" category if unsure.

  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Service held 65 dialogue sessions with 3,800 participants to examine the Unemployment Insurance and related Employment Service programs in light of a changing economy. A published summary of these dialogues, including recommendations, will soon be made available to the Service’s internal and external customers and stakeholders.

  • The Railroad Retirement Board continues to pilot a means to systematically capture and report feedback received from Conversations with America events to higher level management to help improve the services that they provide.

We keep listening so we can use what we hear

Let’s take a look at who’s told us their listening patterns in February and March.

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health and Human Service
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Treasury

Independent Agencies

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Labor Relations Board
  • 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 can find more detailed facts, dates, locations and contacts on specific conversations by visiting our website. Once there, click on Conversations with America, then click on the agencies that are of interest to you.

Face to Face Conversations

In February, the Research and Special Programs Administration will conduct the sixth meeting of the Cargo Tank Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee, to develop recommendations for alternative safety standards to prevent and mitigate the unintentional releases of hazardous materials during the loading and unloading of cargo tank motor vehicles. The committee was formed in response to the issuance of an Advanced Notice of proposed Rulemaking, Docket HM-225A to improve the safety of these operations. This negotiated rulemaking is a key effort under NPR’s reinvention activity to engage constituents in problem solving.

The EPA will meet with six focus groups located in small cities in February, consisting of specific customer/stakeholder groups: librarians, news media, pediatricians, environmental educators, environmental groups, and small businesses, to discuss specific information needs. The results of these sessions will be analyzed and compared to similar meetings held in large cities. EPA will use the results to improve its methods and technologies for offering and delivering information to the public.

February 6-10, the ACF will co-sponsor with the National Network for Youth Symposium ‘99—Youth and Communities: Together We are Stronger. Policymakers, decision makers, adults, youth, social workers, psychologists, religious leaders, educators, youth workers, youth advocates and anyone interested in the development of young people will have the opportunity to engage in a dialogue on the positive development of youth at the community, state and national levels.

On March 11 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Office on Women’s Health will host a listening session, "Women Living Long, Living Well," to consult with and obtain input from women on women’s health issues. This meeting is to insure customer input used in establishing an Office on Women’s Health initiatives. Similar meetings are being held in all regions all across the country.

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education will host "Listening Sessions" in February to talk with state personnel about new legislation, which impacts vocational-technical education programs across the country. These sessions will provide local practitioners, teachers, counselors, and administrators with the forum to speak with Department personnel on the new legislation, and relate how the new provisions will "play" at the local level.

In February, the Bureau of Consular Affairs will participate in two international travel shows to engage in conversations with the public on travel safety abroad and passport issuance. Information gained from the dialogues will be used to improve the services offered by Consular Affairs.

The Tennessee Valley Association (TVA) is conducting what they call the "Voice of the Customer interviews" with a sampling of the distributors of TVA-generated power. This unique process consists of personal interviews with the leadership of roughly one-fourth of the power distributors for the purpose of identifying critical needs, issues and challenges related to their businesses.

In March, EPA will meet with tax counsels, developers, lenders, and accounting firms for a roundtable on the Brownfields Tax Incentive signed by President Clinton as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. The Incentive allows certain cleanup costs at targeted sites to be tax deductible in the year they are incurred. The purpose of the roundtable is to gain feedback to assist in making this financing opportunity as user-friendly as possible.

The Department of Energy and EPA have asked stakeholders to comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding Brookhaven National Laboratory’s High Flux Beam sites.

The Research and Special Programs Administration’s Office of Hazardous Materials will conduct a public meeting to discuss development and publication of Year 2000 North American Emergency Response Guidebook (NAERG2000). The NAERG2000 is an update of the 1996 North American Emergency Response Guidebook designed for use by firefighters, police, and other emergency services personnel who may be the first to arrive at the scene of a transportation incident involving hazardous materials. To date, more than five million copies have been distributed, without charge, to the emergency responder community.

The FAA Southern Region Administrator and Airports Division Manager will meet with approximately 150 attendees at the South Carolina Aviation Association Annual Conference on February 10-12. FAA will host a panel discussion along with a question and answer session to encourage feedback from customers on how FAA can better serve them.

Electronic Conversations

On February 16, Secretary of Education Richard Riley will host his monthly Satellite Town Meeting, "Teaching Reading: Success Stories from School and Home". Call-in viewers will be encouraged to comment on ways that schools and communities can make teaching reading a priority. His next broadcast will take place on March 6th, and entitled "High Standards at work: Comprehensive Approaches to School Improvement."

DOE's Idaho Rocky Flats Field Office continually hosts electronic conversations. Through the website, the office provides opportunities for public comments, reports on the "State of the Flats", provides access to the Citizens Advisory Board, lists upcoming meetings and shares relevant correspondence.

In March, the Media and Information Services and the National Library of Education will launch an electronic discussion group of National Writing Project teachers and site directors. Information exchanged in this discussion group will provide the basis for publishing a book on tips on how teachers can help their students with writing.

On behalf of AHCPR’s electronic dissemination program, the Setting Priorities for Retirement Years (SPRY) Foundation is conducting an evaluation of the AHCPR website with senior citizens. SPRY is soliciting through scripted online chats, comments on the usability and relevancy of the website in obtaining health-related information.

Telephone Conversations

On February 18, FDA will present a teleconference entitled "Facility Inspections Under the Mammography Quality Standards Act Final Regulations". Participants will discuss implementation of the regulations, receive feedback from facility managers and employees, and have the opportunity to phone or fax in their questions for a response.

The Department of Education’s Teacher-in-Residence, Mary Beth Blegen, will conduct conference calls with nine teachers who are editing and preparing files from the Department’s teaching list for posting on its website. This process will bring together teachers from all across the country to discuss powerful issues.

Written Conversations

Beginning in February, the EPA’s Center for Environmental Information and Statistics (CEIS) will begin implementing the second year of its Customer Survey Plan by completing Phase IV of the Center’s four-year Customer Survey Plan (issues July 1997).

CEIS will conduct a national telephone survey of American households to assess potential customers’ environmental information needs and access preferences. Their survey will help CEIS accomplish the following objectives:

- identify audiences for specific types of environmental information that can be accessed by specific means (e.g. internet, newspapers, printed reports, information specialist via telephone, etc…)

- Pinpoint gaps between the public health and environmental questions that their customers are asking and the data and information currently available to answer them.

- Make CEIS more customer-driven.

- Fulfill the Center’s role in meeting EPA’s strategic goal to "Expand Americans’ Right to Know about the Environment."

For More Information

Contact Leslie Schwager, National Partnership for Reinventing Government, at (202) 694-0107 or

Related Resources

Conversations with America Executive Memorandum

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