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Government customer service? House OKs setting standards for it

September 11, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington. An upcoming bill would require agencies to measure the level of customer service they provide to the public.
The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington. An upcoming bill would… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

As hard as it is to imagine, Washington cares about customer service.

So says the House of Representatives, which approved the Government Customer Service Improvement Act on Tuesday.

No one suggested a federal version of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's directive for state workers to cheerfully answer the phone, "It’s a great day in South Carolina,’’ or to call in Nordstrom’s experts to advise the IRS, TSA or VA how to reduce long waits and render service with a smile.

Instead, the bill, passed on a voice vote, would require the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish customer service performance standards for federal agencies and require departments to name customer relations representatives. A similar bill, supported by a lawmakers from both parties, is awaiting a Senate vote.

"When taxpayers interact with a government agency, they deserve the same timely, reliable assistance they would expect from a private sector business,’’ said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the bill’s chief sponsor. Just 31% of people surveyed last year were very satisfied with federal customer service, he noted.

Deficit-minded lawmakers removed from the bill a provision that would have allowed cash incentives to workers who excel at customer service. But Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said that employees will be held accountable for achieving results. 

President Obama last year issued an executive order directing federal agencies to come up with plans to improve customer service.

Julie Tagen, legislative director at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Assn., told the Los Angeles Times: "Federal agencies value customer service and already have the power to hold employees accountable for quality customer service standards.’’

Citing looming budget cuts, she added: "Congress should be using this time to deal with the bigger issues facing our nation…. What will happen to customer service if Social Security employees and VA nurses are forced to keep up their already large workload with even fewer means?"

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Richard.simon@latimes.com

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