Trump plans to bring back Federal Customer Service Awards program

Following the release of the President's Management Agenda, the Trump administration is relaunching the Federal Customer Service Awards program the Obama admini...

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Following the release of the President’s Management Agenda, the Trump administration is relaunching the Federal Customer Service Awards program the Obama administration began in 2015.

“We’re in the process of finalizing guidance to agencies with respect to the timing,” Nathan Sanfilippo, a White House leadership fellow at the Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday at a Forrester summit on improving customer experience in government.

Sanfilippo later told Federal News Radio that agencies should expect to see guidance about the awards “in the next few weeks,” and would shed more light on the timeline of the awards process.

“Fundamentally it’s not much different than the way they happened in the past. We want to recognize some outstanding federal employees that have been recognized by their agency for providing outstanding service and tell their stories,” Sanfilippo said in an interview.

The decision to bring back the award, which President Barack Obama first introduced in 2015, comes as a major incentive for rank-and-file federal employees to help overhaul the way their agency provides services to its customers.

Under the original guidance OMB released in March 2015, the program offers individual awards to federal employees “whose specific accomplishments, professionalism, and commitment to customer service make them a role model for customer service delivery,” as well as initiative awards for individuals who directly improved services at their agencies through developments in technology or operations.

“It’s not necessarily the people in Washington,” Sanfilippo said. “It’s the person working as a TSA agent at the airport, or it’s the person at the Social Security office — really the people delivering the mission directly to the customers. We emphasize to agencies that those are really who we’re thinking of.”

The program doesn’t provide any monetary award for federal employees, but agencies under the old guidance had the discretion to offer monetary incentives to the employees they nominated.

The Trump administration included improving customer experience as one of 14 cross-agency priority (CAP) goals in the President’s Management Agenda that the White House released in March.

Sanfilippo said agencies will still give awards out to their employees, who would later be eligible for a presidential-level recognition. The administration, he said, is also looking to recognize employees who improve their programs and processes under the customer experience CAP goal.

Under the Obama-era guidance, federal employees from 15 agencies were eligible to receive the awards. Sanfilippo said the Trump-era awards would go to about 30 program offices designated as “high impact service providers.”

OMB guidance on customer service dashboards

Under the President’s Management Agenda, OMB will also soon issue guidance to agencies on how to stand up customer experience dashboards on

Sanfillipo told Federal News Radio that agencies should expect to see guidance by the end of June.

“We’ll be meeting between OMB and each one of those programs to talk about the specific content and to work through any specific issues. It’s not meant to be punitive, it’s meant to help grow customer experience capacity,” he said.

Sanfillipo said OMB is looking at the first quarter of fiscal 2019 to stand up the first iteration of these dashboards.

“Not every program will have the capacity to report on governmentwide metrics. We’re going to be working with program to build that capacity, and those will be added to the dashboards as we go,” he said.

As agencies work to stand up their dashboards under this timeline, the Department of Veterans Affairs, together with OMB, will lead 14 other civilian agencies toward overhauling their customer service programs.

Once agencies stand up their dashboards, Sanfillipo, who serves as one of four officials who comprise OMB’s customer service “core team,” said some agencies may have more robust metrics to show for their efforts than others.

“Certainly some are much more mature as customer experience programs. VA is probably the gold standard in government. Others that have a very strong presence certainly have the capacity to dive right in. And there are others, frankly, that are at a much earlier stage in how they gather and incorporate customer feedback. We want to reach out to them and help provide resources,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department, together with OMB, the General Services Administration and the Office of American Innovation, is in the process of standing up five Centers of Excellence. Those centers, which will later be exported to other agencies, aim to overhaul the USDA’s tech infrastructure and its customer experience.

While the Trump administration looks to USDA as a “lighthouse” agency for the rest of government to emulate following its CoE overhaul, Sanfillipo said the agency has been taking some tips advice from VA.

“Some of the stuff we’ve been learning from the VA we’re incorporating into what we’re trying to do at USDA. We’ve already had meetings between customer experience professionals to try and share those best practices,” he said.

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