House wants to beef up agency customer service

Thursday - 8/1/2013, 7:48am EDT

By Melissa Dawkins
Special to Federal News Radio

House lawmakers want agencies to have standard response times to answer citizens' requests.

This is one of several provisions in a new bipartisan bill passed Wednesday by the House to improve federal government customer service today.

The bill, Government Customer Service Improvement Act (H.R.1660), requires the Office of Management and Budget to set customer service standards to improve response times for requests of government services across agencies.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) sponsored the House bill.

There is a companion bill in the Senate, S. 760, sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D- Va.).

"Today's House vote is a step toward better service for the millions of people who rely on the federal government," Warner said in a press release. "Citizens should expect federal agencies to deliver customer services at least as well as the private sector does, but this often is not the case. For example, Virginia is home to more than 130,000 federal retirees, and I've heard from folks waiting over 400 days for their full retirement benefits from the federal government. That simply is not acceptable."

Warner introduced his version of the customer service bill in April, and it was referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee hasn't held a hearing or markup of the bill.

The House legislation also would set specific reporting requirements for the Office of Personal Management for processing and modernizing retirement systems.

OPM had more than 25,500 unprocessed claims as of June 2013, according to the release.

The legislation also would hold the chief performance officer at each agency accountable for establishing customer service standard plans. The bill would require the performance improvement officer at each agency to collect and compile customer input on quality of service.

"Companies that have to succeed in the free market have an incentive to constantly improve customer service. Government agencies simply don't have to respond to competition the way private companies do," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in the release. "This legislation ensures that federal agencies are responsive to the taxpayers who fund them by requiring the development of customer service standards and performance measures at each agency. By embedding the concept of customer service into government operations, agencies will ultimately become more efficient and effective. This is just common sense."

Cuellar sponsored similar legislation in 2012 (H.R.538). The 2012 Government Customer Service Improvement Act passed by unanimous consent in the House, according to a 2012 press release. The legislation died in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The most recent version of the bill would expand on existing OMB customer service guidance.

OMB issued a memo in June 2011 providing guidance to implement President Barack Obama's executive order to improve customer service across agencies to individuals as well as governmental and private entities.

Melissa Dawkins is an intern for Federal News Radio

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