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Satisfaction With Government Increases; Focus Is Efficiency

By Ed O'Keefe

Americans' satisfaction with the federal government has improved slightly from year to year, according to a new report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the government’s standard measure of consumer experience. The government's overall score climbed 1.6 points to 68.9 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, but the government still trails the private sector, which scored a 75. The report also finds that Americans are more concerned about efficiency than customer service.

“This improvement from a year ago has really been about improving the timeliness of government and accessibility and the information it provides rather than customer service," said David Van Amburg, the managing Director of ACSI.

More than 100 federal agencies and departments use the ACSI to measure the satisfaction levels of more than 200 of their services or programs. The survey is tailored to each agency, in order to get a sense of how satisfied citizens are with the services it provides. Agencies or offices that provide entitlement benefits or services typically score higher than regulatory agencies, since they interact with citizens more frequently.

The Interior Department scored best this year among government departments with a 78, thanks mostly to the National Park Service. The Defense Department scored second with a 75, followed by Health and Human Services which climbed six points from last year to a 74. The Department of Homeland Security ranks last among cabinet departments with a 57, but saw an impressive 16-point rise over last year thanks to an improved score for efficiency. (See a full list of participating government agencies and their scores.)

The survey also concludes that government satisfaction levels might be higher if it devoted more resources to improving services online. E-filing provided by the Internal Revenue Service for example scored higher (78) than paper filing (54), thanks mostly to the efficiency of online filing. The Social Security Administration scored a 73, while three of its Web sites earned between 87 and 90, some of the highest scores for both private and public sector sites.

ACSI conducts random telephone surveys that ask Americans about their use of both private- and public-sector goods and services. Sample sizes for each agency or department vary depending on how many respondents say they have interacted with it.

The ACSI is generated by the University of Michigan, in partnership with the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and CFI Group, an international consulting firm. The government first used the ACSI in 1999 as part of the "reinventing government" efforts spearheaded by then-Vice President Al Gore.

“At that time we felt that citizen satisfaction with service would drive public trust," said Tina Sung, the newly appointed vice president of Government Transformation at the Partnership for Public Service who worked with Gore on his reinvention efforts.

“The point is that measurement matters. You have to measure your improvement and have data. Once you have that, you work on it, you can influence public trust and confidence in your government," she said. Sung maintains that this year's increase in overall satisfaction is the result of government's ability to act on past data.

Sung also notes this year's data should be well-received by the Obama administration since the survey "is really in line with the new administration’s alleged intention to really use technology to reach out to citizens and make government more transparent.”

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 16, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Mr. O'Keefe's column, as always, provides very useful information. I'm troubled, though, by the context of the ACSI. Many rate business above government. If you haven't noticed lately, the business sector is being bailed out by the government. More importantly, though, there are men and women in the U.S. government who are willing to and have risked their lives for this country. No business executive would do that. The study is worthless.

Posted by: kellerhalsmd | December 16, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

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