Amira Choueiki Boland, the Office of Management and Budget’s federal customer experience lead, told Federal News Network in a recent panel discussion that the President’s Management Council is focused on improving customer experience in government through these life experiences.
“When you’re facing a financial shock, it is so critical that you get those safety-net supports fast, so that you can recover and ultimately become more resilient. All of that requires multiple different agencies and entities collaborating on data,” Boland said.
Senior presidential adviser Neera Tanden said Thursday that the life experiences outlined in the executive order give agencies a targeted way to cut through the “bureaucratic haze” of government services and “restore basic trust in government.”
“These life events, especially the financial shock one, is just a great catalyst for us having that conversation in a deeper way,” Tanden said at an event co-led by OMB and the Aspen Institute. “We have a lot of data, we have a lot of information that we already have access to — about what people are doing, what activities are they signing up for, where people are falling short — but how do we use that data?”
Visibility into those customer experience barriers, however, often requires data and insight from multiple agencies. Understanding the experience of transitioning out of active military service, for example, requires data from both the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
Boland said sharing data is the key to improving these cross-agency life experiences, and that the executive order directs OMB to break down some of the barriers that prevent data sharing in government.
“Multiple times in government, you’ll have these data-sharing agreements stall,” Boland said. “When you have two incredibly well-qualified general counsels within agencies, that can look at the same statute and interpret it differently, someone needs to be in the position to make a call.”
Labor Department Chief Innovation Officer Chike Aguh said the customer experience (CX) focus on life experiences is helping agencies connect the public to benefits more quickly.
“We say at the Department of Labor [that] the day someone files for employment insurance is the worst day of their lives … That is the wrong time to give them a very complicated form, and say, ‘Figure it out,’” Aguh said.
Simchah Suveyke-Bogin, the Agriculture Department’s chief customer experience officer, said USDA is partnering with other agencies to ensure eligible individuals apply for benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
“We’re really digging deep into the data and to conversations regarding processes, conversations regarding where we have gaps and where we have to dig deeper into service delivery and design,” Suveyke-Bogin said.
Aguh said an interagency focus on plain language for agency websites and applications is key to getting more eligible individuals to apply for federal benefits and services.
“I don’t care what technology you use, I don’t care what language you translate it into which that someone doesn’t get if the language is confusing. The result will be the same, which is that someone doesn’t get the benefits they deserve,” Aguh said.
The Department of Health and Human Services is also using these journey maps to coordinate customer experience improvements.
Deputy HHS Secretary Andrea Palm said the recently created a roadmap to coordinate the agency’s programs and services related to behavioral health.
“It is easy to do the work in a lane that is defined by the program, by the statute, by the regulations, and not think about how it might be connected to something else that we’re doing somewhere else in the department,” Palm said. “It really challenges us to think about how there is no wrong door to those kinds of services, to look at the problem from the perspective of the people that we’re serving,” Palm said.
To make government service more accessible, the executive order directs agencies to make more programs available online.
Robin Carnahan, the administrator of the General Services Administration, said the public demands easier access to government services online, but too often, glitchy technology gets in the way.
“Often we just see that bad delivery and bad tech sinks good policy, and whether that’s a small business applying for a loan during the pandemic, or somebody looking for unemployment checks or food, or housing benefits or even COVID tests. We saw these systems fail over and over again throughout the pandemic,” Carnahan said.
Rather than have agencies completely overhaul service delivery on their own, GSA, as a governmentwide shared services provider, is looking to give agencies some common tools to improve CX.
More than 90 agencies, for example, use GSA’s U.S. Web Design System (USWDS), a common template for .gov websites. Carnahan said websites build on USWDS tools handle over a billion page views a month.
Carnahan said GSA is also looking for feedback on whether text messaging as a GSA-provided shared service would help agencies reach out to customers.
“One of the smartest bets in government is to think about where are these common things that we just do over and over again, that would be better, faster and cheaper, if we could use a shared service with it,” she said.
To support this digital overhaul of customer experience, Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said OMB is working on additional guidance to implement the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA), a 2018 law focused on making government services accessible online and on mobile devices.
“We do need to do some additional work to help agencies embrace component pieces of it, and then also align our budget process upstream to make sure that we are supporting that,” Martorana said. “Policy fails if implementation fails … I have been really startled at times that our policies did not take into consideration what the practical reality is on the ground.”