National Partnership for Reinventing Government


March 6, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 2

An Information Sheet for Federal Communicators, Managers, Workers, and Their Partners--Pass It On

Vice President Gore: Face to Face with Happy Customers

Washington, DC--Vice President Gore celebrated reinventing government's fifth anniversary on March 3 by talking with nine Americans whose personal stories illustrate a government that today does work better and costs less.

The Vice President also announced a new customer service initiative, Conversations with America. He called attention to a Presidential directive, signed the same day, that calls for the heads of departments and agencies to "increase efforts to engage customers in conversations about further improving government service."

The tightly-packed audience of mostly federal workers in the briefing room of the Old Executive Office Building ate up every word of the ceremony, including the commitments of several agency officials to new service levels by the year 2000.

Contented Customers and Challenging Commitments

Here are some of the highlights of the anniversary event:

  • Social Security customer Jane Barton, a widow with three children from Mesa, Arizona, had found earlier calls to the agency's 800 number a "nightmare." Not anymore. Barton praised SSA teleservice employee Bonnie Szczawinski, for spending 45 minutes on the phone with her, answering questions she didn't even know to ask. "She was awesome," Barton said. SSA Commissioner Ken Apfel pledged that by the year 2000, SSA will even take claims for retirement and survivor benefits in a single phone transaction. And, callers to the 800 number will get through on the first try 90 percent of the time.

  • Dennis Eggebraaten, a police lieutenant from Grand Forks, ND, was a victim of last year's Red River floods, his house under 19 feet of muddy water. FEMA had been there even before the rains came, warning people to buy insurance. Eggebraaten, who took FEMA's advice, also worked side-by-side with FEMA to help the whole community recover from the disaster. Maurice Goodman, FEMA's Director of Communications, said that by the year 2000, FEMA and its partners will act on all requests to meet the needs of victims within in 12 hours. Also, FEMA will demonstrate, through the creation of disaster-resistant communities, that every dollar spent on mitigation will help communities avoid an estimated $2 in long-range disaster losses.

  • Kelly Smith, chief financial officer of Replacements Ltd. in Greensboro, NC, said his company changed to the US Postal Service to deliver hard-to-find replacement china and crystal to their customers--and it's cheaper than the competition. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon praised postal workers for their focus on customers. The Postal Service, which has phenomenally improved local delivery in recent years, promises to deliver cross country mail in 3 days 89 percent of the time by the year 2000.

  • Yutiv Lipscomb, a former welfare recipient and mother of a two-year old, was referred for training at NAACP by Maryland's Southwest Career Center, one of 515 One-Stop Career Centers in 24 states. After several promotions, she's now personal secretary of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, and off welfare. Deputy Labor Secretary Kitty Higgins pledged that by 1999, the number of One-Stop Career Centers will increase to 1,000 and by year 2002, there will be 2,300 across the country.

  • Melba Price, from Missouri's Department of Social Services, was involved with the successful first steps of a federal-state effort to deliver benefits electronically via a single benefit card. Yvette Jackson, Assistant Secretary for Food and Nutrition Services said by 2002, the Department of Agriculture will deliver food stamps, child support, and other federal benefits to recipients in all 50 states, thus improving service and reducing fraud.
  • Jeff Davis, president of Wisconsin Box Company in Wausau, WI, said that in 1994, his company had 72 workers injured on the job. In the last 3 years, under a new partnership with OSHA, with the company and workers active participants in a new safety program, no one has lost a day to injury. OSHA Assistant Secretary Charles Jeffress pledged that by September 2000, similar partnerships will reduce injury and illness rates by 20 percent in at least 50,000 of the most hazardous workplaces that OSHA works with.

  • B.J. Mason, owner of Mid-Atlantic Finishing in Capital Heights, MD, remembers when the government's environmentalists "treated business owners like they were evil, horned creatures with ugly facial sores"--and the feeling was mutual. Now they are working together with mutual trust and respect. Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen said EPA will continue to work in partnership with the metal finishing industry to fulfill its goal of cutting toxic pollution by 75 percent. By the year 2000, EPA will expand this approach to help other industries achieve similar reductions and lower compliance costs.
  • Bill Healy, financial aid director at Northwood University in Midland, MI, is a big fan of the Department of Education's free, fast, and easy online application for student loans ( So is Nick Vaugh, a father of two who's back in school for a business degree. He was the first Northwood student to apply electronically and one of the tens of thousands of students who have used the web-based application since it went online last June. David Longenecker, Assistant Secretary for Post-Secondary Education, says that by September 2000, Education will accept 3 million electronic applications for student assistance.

  • IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti was also on hand to signal that agency's commitment to open all IRS offices on Saturday during the tax season, starting this Saturday, March 7. And by the next tax season, taxfilers can call the toll-free number 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and get expanded services.

Vice President Gore praised federal workers for their achievements. "...we have stopped government as usual, " he said, "and have undertaken a sustained effort to really change the way government serves the American people." Noting that much work is left to be done, he expressed hope that the phrase "good enough for government work"--introduced as a symbol of quality during World War II-- would regain its original meaning.

For More Information

All documents related to the fifth anniversary are on NPR's web site at These include the Presidential directive on Conversations with America, the Vice President's March 3rd e-mail message thanking federal workers, and "America Anywhere," a directory of toll free numbers and websites by subject rather than agency name.

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