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10/27/2011
04:28 PM
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Feds Use Internet To Improve Customer Service

Agencies disclose plans to use technology to improve services to citizens and an Obama administration executive order.

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New online services from the IRS and the State Department are among those in the works to meet a new federal mandate to improve federal customer-service engagements.

In April the White House by executive order required federal agencies to develop plans to identify steps they would take to improve customer service.

This week agencies are posting their plans online, according to a White House blog post by Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients.

Specifically, the plans are supposed to show how agencies will adopt best practices from the private sector, develop service standards and track performance against them, and benchmark themselves against the private sector to improve customers' experience.

[ Want to read the latest on government IT? Read our Government Blogs.]

The plans also were required to include a so-called "signature initiative" that specifically leverages technology to achieve goals.

The feds' plan to use the Web more to help customers comes at a good time, as a recent study found that people increasingly are using this channel to communicate with the government.

To that end, Zients highlighted new technology investments the IRS, State Department, and Department of Health and Human Services will make to bolster online engagement with customers.

The IRS is developing an app for its website that will let taxpayers securely authenticate their identity online and then send transcripts of tax records to an authorized third party. Currently, people can request these transcripts online but can only receive them through the mail. Millions of people annually make these requests, and the new app will expedite their fulfillment, according to Zients.

The State Department aims to simplify another bureaucratic process for Americans as part of its customer service plan—applying for a passport card, which will be valid for travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

The department is developing a pilot so people who already have a valid U.S. passport book can apply for a passport card online by uploading a digital photo and making an online payment. The pilot is experimenting with electronic signatures to see if they are viable for this type of passport processing, which the department does more than a million times a year.

For its part, HHS will launch an online service for small businesses that helps them identify insurance plans to offer employees. Through HealthCare.gov’s Insurance Plan Finder, small business owners will be able to see benefit and cost-sharing information for insurance plans in their local areas and basic pricing comparisons between the plans.

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