Public satisfaction with government services lowest in 16 years

The American public’s satisfaction with the services it receives from the federal government continues to decline, according to a new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The public’s satisfaction level dropped to 64.4 (on a scale of 100) in 2014 from 66.1 in 2013 — a difference of 1.7 percent. The previous low score was 65.4, which ACSI reported in 2010. This year’s score, in fact, is the lowest since 1999, when ASCI first began measuring the public’s satisfaction in the federal government.

The report is based on a survey ASCI conducted between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1, 2014, of 1,772 users who were asked to rate their recent interactions with federal agencies. The scores for individual agencies were determined through independent research conducted by CFI Group.

“While citizens are generally less satisfied with most aspects of their interactions with federal services, customer ratings of service (specifically, courteousness and professionalism of agency staff) have declined the most,” the report said. “Customer service plummets 6 percent compared with a year ago — down from a score of 80 to 75.”

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The drop in customer satisfaction is not surprising, given the budget constraints and staff cuts many agencies have faced in recent years.

“Much like the private sector, one of the first casualties of cost-cutting is customer service,” Claes Fornell, ACSI chairman and founder, said in a release. “Due to the very nature of their business, regulatory agencies like the IRS always face user satisfaction challenges and it becomes even more difficult to maintain quality service to a growing number of users with fewer, or even the same number of people, providing those services.”

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen lately has been one of the most vocal agency chiefs talking about how tight budgets have impacted his agency’s ability to do its job and serve the public.

Koskinen told In Depth with Francis Rose in December that his agency had 13,000 fewer employees and a 10-percent smaller budget than it did in fiscal year 2010. Over the last five years, he said, the IRS has saved about $1 billion in efficiencies. But, he added, there’s no more fat to trim at the agency.

“We’re now down, after five years in a row of budget cuts, to a point where we have no choice but to cut back on taxpayer services and enforcement and the further development of our taxpayer technology,” Koskinen said.

The ASCI report showed less year-over-year deterioration in customer experience in other areas of government, although all of those scores remained lower than customer service’s 75. For example, survey respondents gave a lower score in 2014 (69) than in 2013 (71) for the clarity and accessibility of information agencies provide. Also, the customer experience at agency websites stayed steady with a benchmark of 72.

When compared to most industries and local government, the ASCI report said that federal agencies were delivering services at a lower level of satisfaction. Only Internet service providers scored lower than the federal government.

At 73, the Department of Defense received the highest satisfaction score of any agency. The Department of Agriculture came in next at 69.

The departments of Health and Human Services (62), Veterans Affairs (59) and Treasury (57) fell below the government average of 64. HHS had its second consecutive decline in citizen satisfaction, falling from 69 in 2012 to 62 in 2014.

The report was not bad news for all of the federal government.

“Retirees receiving services from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation give their experience an ACSI benchmark of 90, surpassing the top-scoring company in the private sector, Amazon.com at 88,” the report said.

In addition, National Recreation Reservation Service call centers received a score of 82 from call-center users and a score of 90 from field-staff users. The Department of Education’s FAFSA call center received an ACSI score of 87 from online applicants who contacted the center.

“Even for lower-scoring entities such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), satisfaction levels can vary depending on how citizens choose to interact with the agency,” the report said. “As in prior years, the IRS provides a much more satisfying experience for citizens who file taxes electronically (76) than those who file on paper (57).”

RELATED LINKS:

Koskinen: IRS faces tough FY 2015 with budget, workforce woes

IRS imposes hiring freeze, eliminates overtime to deal with budget cuts

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