HealthCare.gov drags down satisfaction with federal services

Tuesday - 1/28/2014, 4:26pm EST

Call it the HealthCare.gov effect.

For the first time since 2010, citizen satisfaction with federal government services dropped last year, according to a new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The average overall citizen satisfaction with the government's services fell 3.4 percent in 2013 to a score of 66.1 points (on a 100-point scale). Much of the decline is attributable to a "deterioration in satisfaction" with federal websites, which users found "more difficult to navigate, less reliable, and the information provided less useful" than in years past, according to the report.

The satisfaction score for the Health and Human Services Department dropped from a high of 69 points in 2012 to about equal to the government average last year, the report noted, "amid a spike in users of HHS as it began the rollout of HealthCare.gov."

The decline in e-government services is particularly troubling since more Americans are interacting with government services via the Internet. In fact, as of the end of 2013, about 35 percent of all customers of federal government services said they most often interacted with the government via agency websites. That's more than the percentage of respondents who did so via telephone (19 percent) and office visits (11 percent) combined.

"In this sense, the federal government has managed to create a less costly and more efficient delivery of public services," the report noted. "However, this also means it is becoming more challenging to keep up with the growing demand of users, while maintaining satisfactory service throughout e-government."

Customer satisfaction scores for federal government services were lower than satisfaction scores for all private-sector entities scored by ACSI — including fast food restaurants, hotels and airlines — with the exception of Internet service providers.

The Defense and State departments scored highest among federal agencies — at 75 points and 74 points, respectively.

The lowest scoring agencies were the Homeland Security and Treasury departments, at 61 points and 58 points, respectively. However, those lower results aren't entirely unsurprising, according to the report, since DHS, in the form of the Transportation Security Administration, and the Treasury Department, in the form of the Internal Revenue Service, carry out often-unpopular but necessary regulatory functions.

Despite the overall governmentwide decline, some individual agency services continue to score highly, including the Education Department's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website and the Veterans Affairs Department's National Cemetery Administration.

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