Senator seeks a 'send your gripe' box at FirstGov

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has a gripe: The Internet has made parts of the

federal government a lot more accessible, but there's no central place where

citizens can lodge a complaint.

An electronic complaint box would be "extremely useful," Wyden said

in a letter to the General Services Administration. "An easy-to-use online

complaint box" should be added to FirstGov.gov, the government Internet

portal that debuted in September, he suggested to GSA administrator David

Barram.

The box would give citizens a place to lodge complaints ranging from

concerns about faulty products such as defective vehicle tires, to grumbles

about deficient government services, Wyden said.

"At present, a citizen with a significant complaint...may not know which

agency or office to contact, and thus might fail to alert government officials

to important problems," he said.

Actually, FirstGov already provides help for citizens wishing to file

complaints, a GSA spokeswoman said. But the existing system is not as obvious

or user-friendly as the complaint box Wyden envisions.

At the bottom left of the FirstGov home page are three links for feedback.

They lead users to other links that steer them to complaint forms to report

problems about airlines, autos, businesses and charities, consumer products,

electronic commerce, health clubs and other businesses and organizations.

But Wyden believes it would be better to have a prominently displayed

complaint box on FirstGov that would accept complaints and direct users

to the appropriate agencies. He said that could be accomplished by having

the complaint box guide users through a series of questions: Is the complaint

about a government agency or a private company? What kind of company or

which agency? And so on to funnel the complaint to the right recipient.

"I believe this kind of complaint handling would provide an important

service by making it significantly easier for members of the public to communicate

their concerns to the relevant federal agencies," Wyden wrote. Earlier this

year, Wyden ordered a General Accounting Office study of the online complaint

mechanisms operated by the 32 federal agencies that handle most of the government's

contact with the public. "The study showed that when an agency does provide

a good online complaint mechanism, people use it," Wyden wrote.

He cited the Consumer Product Safety Commission as an agency with a

good online complaint system. But Wyden said relying on individual agencies

to set up good complaint systems is not a solution because it still requires

citizens to know which agencies to complain to.

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