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6/16/2011
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Obama Sets Clock for Agencies: Boost Service

Federal agencies are on a 180-day timeline to create tech-heavy plans to overhaul customer service and comply with a White House executive order.

Obama's Tech Tools
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Slideshow: Obama's TechTools
Agencies will soon have to draw up information technology-heavy customer service plans to meet President Obama’s recent executive order for federal agencies to improve their services to the American people, the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday in a memo to heads of federal agencies.

The memo, which also outlines the steps agencies must take to rationalize federal websites, requires agencies to develop within 180 days customer service plans and publish them on their open government websites, including plans for improving the agencies' highest volume public services.

The requirements come out of an April 27 executive order by President Obama that exhorts agencies to emulate private sector best practices and use technology to deliver better, faster, and cheaper services to the public.

Agencies, as part of their plans, will have to create a "signature" customer service initiative "that uses technology to improve customer service, address the gap between customer expectation and agency service delivery, and achieve efficiency gains." For example, the memo states, agencies might develop systems for reserving in-person appointments online, services that limit or eliminate the need for in-person appointments, or mobile services.

In addition, agencies will have to outline efforts to solicit customer feedback on customer services and use that feedback to improve those services, determine where agencies can move from "less preferred" customer service channels like print to online and mobile services "where appropriate and applicable," set clear customer service standards and goals, and identify ways to use technology to improve customer service by lowering costs, decreasing delivery times, and improving customer experience.

Agencies were already required under an older executive order to survey customers of government services to determine their satisfaction with and desires for government service, but the new memo says that, pursuant to the new executive order, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs will aim to make it easier to solicit customer feedback by providing new Paperwork Reduction Act guidance (the Act has been criticized for burdening government's use of social media and online surveys) and create a "fast track" review process for efforts to survey the public.

To oversee and coordinate the development of plans and signature initiatives, as well as to share best practices, OMB will soon set up a customer service task force that includes senior officials from various federal agencies.

Finally, the memo institutes a limited 90-day freeze on the creation of new .gov domains outside of those given an express written waiver by federal CIO Vivek Kundra and details requirements on how agencies should go about eliminating duplicative and outdated websites. This part of the plan is part both of the customer service initiative and the recently announced Campaign to Cut Waste.

By mid-July, the memo says, Kundra and the GSA will set up a task force to create recommendations for overhauling the federal government's policy for managing the federal government's thousands of websites.

The White House announced Thursday that Kundra will leave the federal CIO post in August to take a fellowship at Harvard University.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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