Key areas of attention remain

September 25, 2012

The Federal Computer Week has brought my attention to a report from the Government Accountability Office in the USA entitled “ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT ACT Agencies Have Implemented Most Provisions, but Key Areas of Attention Remain” (PDF, 574 Kb, 50 pages), hardly a slick title but it summarises the report in a long breath. The report talks in fairly woolly terms about how the OMB (Office of Management & Budget) and other federal agencies have taken actions to comply with the ten-year-old E-Government Act but concludes that:

“However, key areas of attention remain to accomplish the act’s purposes of promoting electronic government and use of other technologies. For example, while the federal government continues to take actions to improve transparency through various websites, we have reported on concerns with the accuracy and reliability of this information. Also, OMB has not met the act’s requirement for establishing a website and repository that are to provide information about research and development funded by the federal government, which would assist the public in tracking the government’s investment in basic research.”

The first issue is a matter related to on this blog before that open data is only of value if it is accurate and timely, it also needs to be of value to the citizen or those ensuring accountability. It is no good publishing data if its resultant analysis is of little or no value to the citizen. The second one will be of wider interest, although I am sure substantial duplication and waste would be revealed.

Fascinatingly for those in the UK the report also reveals that “according to a report published as part of the .gov Reform Initiative 56 agencies reported maintaining 1,489 domains and an estimated 11,013 websites” [Emboldening mine]. Although it admits most get to them via search engines, as if the quantity of sites that require maintenance, licensing and hosting does not matter! My personal issue when reading the report was that the action of the OMB issuing a memorandum requesting actions to be carried out by federal bodies would appear to be satisfactory, whether or not they occurred – has anybody checked? The fact that the OMB issues a memo requiring privacy or usability to be suitably managed appears to be enough, whilst I would hope at least a sample (out of the 11k plus) are physically checked for some consistency and compliance.

However, whilst drafting this a Tweet from Alex Howard (aka @digiphile ) points me to another new report – “Civil Society Progress Report on the US National Action Plan” (PDF, 650 Kb, 24 pages) which considers the government of the USA is at least partially meeting most of its targets, although it doesn’t mention opening up spending data on R&D investrments. This report, at least, makes a pretty good summary and advisory note of what to press on with federally in the e-government nation.

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Customer service guidance

June 26, 2011

Having frequently and publicly stated that we should make more of the experiences of our Canadian and Australian counterparts, rather than the UK government fetishization of the US model, I am reporting on the fact that some weeks ago President Obama signed an executive order, “Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service”, which was unfortunately lost in the mass of other budgetary issues the US government was dealing with. This was followed on June 13 by guidance from the US Office of Management & Budget (OMB) entitled Implementing Executive Order 13571 on Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service (6 pages, 2.37 Mb!).

This is the reason why I am for promoting Canadian practice. The Canadians went through a recession some years ago and as a result they looked at government services in-depth and how they might improve them. As a result they developed guidance and a sample was in one of my blog posts in January 2008. In June 2011 the White House issues its own. These are some of the key demands –

“Establish mechanisms to solicit customer feedback on government services and use such feedback regularly to make service improvements, such as:

Collect ongoing, timely, actionable customer feedback to identify early warning signals of customer service issues; and conduct customer satisfaction surveys and report the results publicly to provide transparency and accountability.

Improve the customer experience by adopting proven customer service best practices and coordinating across service channels (including on-line, phone, in person, and mail services), such as:

Develop a process for evaluating the entire customer experience, ensuring consistency across service channels; coordinate with other agencies serving the same customers, identifying opportunities for using common forms and application materials and processes; analyze customer preferences for interactions and redirect resources from less preferred and more costly channels (such as printed materials) to preferred, less costly, and more widely accessible channels (such as Internet and mobile services), where appropriate and applicable; and ensure access and usability for people with disabilities and hard-to-reach and disadvantaged customer populations.”

I have often heard it said in central government that local government is frequently more advanced than central government. I think that these six pages demonstrate that local government (including in the USA) is further advanced in serving the citizen than central government.  So why do we keep looking west, when locally or north-west may better provide solutions? In fact Lisa Nelson who is responsible for Research and Strategic Partnerships within Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the American GSA has pointed the W3C e-Government Interest Group towards a new Deloitte report for the Canadian government “Innovation in government – Conversations with Canada’s public service leaders“. The report spells out what are essentially cultural changes to the way government behaves, not unlike the recently published Socitm strategy for UK public services – “Planting the flag“.