Citizen-centered services are key to government reform

Taxpayers' frustration with the government is nearing an all-time high. Not because people don't want the government to perform certain services, such as deliver Social Security checks, build roads and ensure safe air travel, but because they want these services to be delivered in the same simple and easy manner provided by the private sector: instantaneous, 24-hour-a-day, anywhere-in-the-world access with one phone call or click of a button. Significant changes are under way to resolve these issues, but the heat is on for agencies to demonstrate the impact of reform on the citizen.

With the passage of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and the Information Technology Management Reform Act by Congress and with Vice President Al Gore's leadership of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), agencies are beginning to view citizens and technology in a new way. They're using commercial best practices to upgrade often decades-old technology and to implement new processes.

But reform from the citizen's perspective still has a long way to go. Many private-sector firms faced challenges similar to those now faced by government as they took steps to upgrade their technology and internal business processes. But they also recognized the critical role that customer loyalty plays in growing their businesses. Their focus evolved to improving internal inefficiencies that would result in superior customer service while maximizing shareholder value. Implementing an approach we call "customer relationship management," these firms refocused their people, processes and technology toward increasing customer satisfaction.

Balance Is Needed

But government is not a business nor is it intended to be one. But federal agencies can apply these same principles to comply with the mandates of GPRA.

Government must balance public policy with economy to meet the needs of all citizens and make the most of every tax dollar. GPRA requires that agencies develop strategic plans which link their core mission to measurable outcomes—- for example, improved program delivery and reduced costs. Under the aegis of the NPR, many agencies have published customer service standards.

Focusing on the citizen is a way of thinking—- and acting—- that assumes that the first consideration when changing internal processes is the approach of how to best serve the citizen. This approach, which we call "citizen-centered services," is grounded in three imperatives that strategic plans must incorporate:

* Change the way citizens are treated. Citizens have become more demanding and sophisticated in the way they want to access public services, thereby requiring agencies to understand how to provide savvy, timely and high-quality delivery. But many organizations approach problems from the perspective of "this is what we do and what we've always done." Perhaps the question should be, "Is this what we should do and, if so, how can we best do it from the perspective of the citizen?"

* Develop process excellence. Agencies should continue to take advantage of technological advances, process re-engineering and organizational restructuring, but not in a vacuum. Successful agencies look at their processes with an eye on providing employees with the tools that will best promote information sharing and efficiency. Agencies then build the solution backward from the point of citizen contact.

* Think beyond the boundaries. Through key legislation, Congress has begun the process of moving the boundaries of reform. Now it is critical to reward government employees for innovation and creative thinking that benefit the citizen. We should supplement the experience and knowledge of our federal employees with the right tools and incentives to creatively meet citizen's needs. Citizen satisfaction and creative-thinking metrics are a critical component of agencies' performance plans.

Several agencies already have begun to integrate core imperatives of citizen-centered services into their operations. The Internal Revenue Service recently announced a bold plan to restructure the agency around lines of business that are more customer-oriented. It is evolving into an agency that will use technology to provide tailored services to specific customer segments.

Partnered with Andersen Consulting, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently completed an analysis of how the agency can align its organization with new regulatory realities while maintaining superior constituency relations. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development worked with Andersen Consulting to conduct a segmentation strategy to delineate its key constituents and to develop an approach geared toward providing better service to these customer segments.

Beyond meeting Congress' mandates of reform legislation, the value proposition for becoming a citizen-focused federal agency is clear. More demanding customers require a constant focus on the citizen, driven by the agency's mission and properly aligned internal resources.

Within this context and under the auspices of reform legislation, the agency and the contracting partner can fundamentally change the way our government works for the benefit of federal agencies' missions and, ultimately, the taxpayer.

Rohleder is managing partner of the Americas Government-Federal Practice of Andersen Consulting, Washington, D.C., a global management and information technology consulting firm.

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