OMB seeks to ‘build trust’ in government services, speed up CX expert hiring across agencies

The Biden administration is putting its next wave of customer experience improvement into focus, giving agencies new targets — and soon, new tools — to impr...

The Biden administration is putting its next wave of customer experience projects into focus, giving agencies new targets — and soon, new tools — to improve the way agencies deliver public-facing services across government.

The Office of Management and Budget, in its latest update to the President’s Management Agenda on Wednesday, announced it’s working on a strategy that will make it easier for agencies to hire customer experience personnel governmentwide.

OMB is also adding new focus areas to its list of cross-agency “life experiences,” and working on upcoming guidance meant to improve how agencies deliver public-facing services across a sprawling network of government websites.

The Biden administration, more broadly, recently released additional guidance on how to measure customer experience improvements across the federal government, and directed agencies to focus on rebuilding public trust in government services.

The Biden administration’s interagency customer experience team — led by the General Services Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs— said 26 of 35 agencies designed as High-Impact Service Providers (HISPs) are now publicly reporting their customer experience data.

“Today’s updates include steps taken by HISPs to strengthen their service delivery, which in turn is work to build trust directly with the American people,” the implementation team wrote in a blog post.

OMB, in its latest PMA update, said it will work with GSA to develop a talent acquisition guide, meant to make it easier for agencies to hire customer experience personnel governmentwide.

OMB expects to release the CX talent acquisition guide by the third quarter of fiscal 2024.

The upcoming talent acquisition guide ties back to some of the federal workforce priorities outlined in the Biden administration’s fiscal 2024 budget request.

The administration’s FY 2024 budget request called for hiring 120 additional customer experience experts across the federal government.

The budget request also envisioned creating 26 “talent teams” across the federal workforce. Those teams would make skills-based assessments and pooled hiring actions a more common practice across federal hiring.

Agencies in the past have launched Subject-Matter Expert Qualification Assessments (SME-QAs) pilots to hire customer experience experts.

Better disaster recovery, Medicare enrollment experiences

OMB is also adding two new customer experience focus areas under its list of cross-agency “life experiences.”

President Joe Biden’s December 2021 customer experience executive order outlined five life experiences as high-priority areas for improvement, but areas that don’t fall exclusively within the scope of a single federal agency.

OMB under its latest PMA update is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with the Small Business Administration to streamline federal disaster assistance.

Both agencies will create a cross-team task force to address a shared backlog of projects in need of a CX overhaul. The agencies will also focus on improved online messaging for FEMA’s intake application and SBA’s loan program, as well as a refresh of their call center scripts.

OMB is specifically directing FEMA to analyze data from applicants looking to register for the agency’s Individual Assistance program, and SBA to review data from its disaster loan program.

The Biden administration is prioritizing the customer experience for federal disaster assistance as bipartisan legislation is making its way through Congress.

The Senate on July 27 passed the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, which would require FEMA to create a universal application across federal agencies for individuals seeking federal assistance following natural disasters. The bill now heads to the House for a floor vote.

Applicants currently have to fill out separate and detailed applications depending on what agency they need help from. The bill’s cosponsors — Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich), Ranking Member Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and committee member James Lankford (R-Okla.) — say that the appprocess can take weeks or even months.

The Biden administration is also calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration to streamline the Medicare enrollment process for those not eligible for SSA benefits, or those not ready to retire and receive SSA benefits.

CMS already automatically enrolls individuals who already get Social Security retirement or disability benefits in Medicare Parts A and B.

OMB announced CMS and SSA will conduct user research on the Medicare-only end-to-end enrollment experience and areas for improvement.

Improved government services online

The Biden administration is also calling on agencies to rethink the way they deliver public-facing services online.

OMB is expected to issue additional guidance on the implementation of the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience (IDEA) Act in early September. The legislation, signed into law in December 2018, directs agencies to modernize their services with a focus on improved customer experience.

OMB is also encouraging agencies to apply for funding from the Technology Modernization Fund to meet some of the new goals.

GSA, according to the latest update, will also update with a “smart filter” to help the public track down benefits and services governmentwide.

The Biden administration is also gathering feedback on how satisfied federal employees feel with internal government services.

In a PMA update on improving the “business of government,” OMB gathered feedback from more than 270,000 federal employees across 24 agencies. The survey asks federal employees about their overall satisfaction with human capital, contracting, financial management and IT services provided internally by the federal government.

Rebuilding public trust, getting customer feedback

OMB, in a recent update to its CircularA-11 memo, is also encouraging agencies to better understand its customers through feedback and focus group user testing. The memo is meant to give agencies a sense of governmentwide priorities as part of the annual budget process.

The updated memo requires HISPs to implement at least one customer feedback survey for each of their current designated services.

“HISPs should work with OMB to determine opportunities for post-transaction customer feedback that are most relevant and appropriate for their designated services, and provide data that enables the ongoing delivery and improvement of the services,” the updated memo states.

The A-11 update also provides updated guidance on an agency’s ability to offer incentives when asking for customer feedback.

Lee Becker, a former chief of staff for VA’s Veteran Experience Office, now vice president and executive advisor for public sector and health care at Medallia, said the A-11 update reflects the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ recent focus on reducing the “time tax” for individuals to find and obtain government services.

“Before, it was very involved,” Becker said about the agency process to obtain customer feedback, as constrained by the Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires agencies to have certain information collection activities approved by OIRA. “Now it becomes even easier for agencies to be able to collect feedback, which is a great thing.”

The A-11 update also directs agencies to prioritize “drivers of trust” across government services.

Becker said the VA is showing progress on its customer experience goals by measuring and prioritizing veteran trust scores, and that OMB is pointing to VA as a case study.

VA saw about a 55% veteran trust score in 2016, but veterans now give the department a nearly 80% trust score. Veterans, in the VA’s latest scorecard, also gave VA health care a nearly 90% trust score.

“VA has shown how, by focusing primarily on trust —and all the drivers of experience that drive trust — that has moved the needle. They’ve gone all in, in their commitment on this,” Becker said. “We’ve seen the progress there, and OMB is finally saying, ‘This is something that all agencies should be doing as well.’”

Becker said OMB’s latest CX priorities — as reflected in the PMA and A-11 updates — underscore the reality that some agencies have made customer experience improvements a priority, while others have lacked the funding or resources to do so.

“We see certain agencies really leaning into this, and it’s becoming part of their culture and part of their organization, and how they operate. There’s other agencies that have not come aboard and they’re struggling to get into CX,” Becker said. “Some of those agencies think it’s too hard, and they have a lot of other priorities, and they don’t see that CX is literally fundamental to how they should be operating.”

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