Thursday, February 8, 2024
This is an excerpt of Chapter 15 from our new book Transforming the Business of Government: Insights on Resiliency, Innovation, and Performance.

In the Gettysburg address, President Abraham Lincoln made famous the reference to “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” He did so at the height of the Civil War, a time when belief in the United States was fractured almost to the point of no return. While the nation has come a long way since 1863, the faith Americans have in the federal government is at a new sustained low. According to the Pew Foundation, which has tracked trust in social institutions since the 1950s, for the last 20 years, less than one-third of Americans trust in the federal government.1

Declining trust in government is not purely an American phenomenon. The UN’s Decade of action2 and the OECD’s Reinforcing Democracy Initiative3 are both efforts to improve trust in well-established national governments, parliaments, and democratic systems. In America, the federal government’s answer has been a sustained and deliberate re-commitment to work “for the people.” Across administrations, parties, and generations, government leaders have been working to improve the delivery of government services for the benefit of everyday Americans, with specific attention being paid to the metric of trust in the federal government. Over the presidencies of Biden,4,5,6 Trump,7 Obama,8,9,10 Bush,11 and Clinton,12,13 an always similar, sometimes rebranded effort has existed to improve trust in the federal government under banners such as customer service, electronic government, digital government, service delivery, and customer experience (CX).

This chapter will describe how the ongoing evolution of the U.S. federal government customer experience efforts can ultimately succeed. It will also make a series of predictions on areas where government customer experience will face the biggest challenges for the next few decades.

 Successful Trajectory of Current Efforts

Perhaps rather optimistically viewed, current government CX efforts can find success due to four primary reasons:

  • An ever-improving set of minimum CX requirements and activities for federal agencies
  • A growing workforce of CX-minded and tech-savvy federal employees
  • The institutionalization of the federal CX movement within individual departments and agencies
  • An active ecosystem of vendors, advocates, and Congress to continue pushing federal CX forward from all directions

The federal government emphasis to create minimum CX standards and activities across agencies has historically focused on a manageable number of agencies that represent the public’s most important interactions with government. In 2016, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memo14 identified these as 28 Core federal services.15 And now in 2023, OMB recognizes 35 High Impact Service Providers.16,17 across administrations, this group of federal programs has been the target for coaching, staff, funding, reporting, and leadership attention. The expectations of these programs will continue to grow over time, along with the baseline level of customer experience capabilities and requirements.

Improving the federal customer experience requires a well-trained workforce that knows how to use and apply service design principles, customer feed- back, and technology capabilities that improve interactions and touch points with customers. The growing talent pipeline for this work now includes a number of specialized hiring programs and offices: Presidential Innovation Fellows (August 2012),18 18F (March 2014),19 the U.S. Digital service (August 2014),20 the Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessments (SME-QA) hiring process (January 2019),21 and the U.S. Digital Corps (August 2021).22 Across these programs, goals include bringing a new skill- set into the workforce, changing agency cultures, and facilitating a service mindset focused on ownership of the customer experience.

Within those agencies, CX institutionalization will continue, driven both by requirements from Congress as well as agency and department leadership. This institutionalization has come in the form of various advocate or ombuds person offices to resolve specific issues brought to them by customers, as well as divisions, directorates, or bureaus created to proactively improve the customer experience. To date, institutionalization has included actions by Congress (see Figure 1), as well as the creation of customer experience offices by department or agency leadership (see Figure 2)—all of which improves momentum and continuity across administrations.

Lastly, a growing and active ecosystem of vendors and advocacy groups— with influence extending into state and local government service delivery— continues to push federal CX efforts forward from all directions. This “civic tech” ecosystem includes nonprofits, private companies, and advocacy groups such as Code for America and its Safety Net Innovation Lab,40 NAVA,41 U.S. Digital Response,42 Bloom works,43 and others. when combined, these factors—minimum CX standards, a growing talent pipeline, institutionalization, and an active ecosystem—can make current federal CX efforts successful, but also reveal a set of new challenges on the horizon.

Emerging Challenges and Areas of Focus

In the future, the most significant challenges related to federal customer experience will emerge where public goods and services intersect with private goods and services—for instance, when private companies deliver public goods, or with customer journeys that require both government and private sector transactions. As examples of the challenges when private companies execute public goods, look no further than government funded loans and insurance,44 commitments to privacy, and follow through on the 21st Century IDEA Act.

In these situations, the following challenges will emerge and become problematic as federal CX continues to mature:

  • Competition over ownership of the relationship with the customer when the ultimate good or service provided is supplied and financed by the government
  • New challenges in maintaining customer privacy
  • The federal government’s difficulty keeping pace with changing consumer preferences and private sector capabilities

Private firms who develop their competitive advantage by providing a good customer experience may be unwilling to share data, insights, processes, and information that would help other providers and overseeing government agencies to improve their customer experience. Without access to these insights, government may find it harder to exercise authority over improving the customer journeys that it administers. This can also lead to a kind of “provider displacement,” where a private partner supersedes government as the service provider in the public imagination. For example, in the case of student loans and crop insurance, the Department of Education45,46 Agriculture47 (respectively) underwrite and finance a product that students and farmers see as being provided by the bank or insurance company of their choice. The extent to which Americans mistake public services for private transactions would limit attempts to improve trust in government institutions. The federal government must take care when relying on private partners for service delivery to ensure that such partnerships properly allocate responsibilities and ownership. Without special attention the federal government may inadvertently limit opportunities to participate in human-centered design processes.

As government customer experience efforts mature, they face growing challenges to keep up with changing customer expectations influenced by new technology and private sector offerings. For example, in 2010 the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began pushing boundaries of government data collection with body scan technology at airport security checkpoints.48,49 Within a year, a biometric security services company called CLEAR was founded50 and began exploring contract opportunities with TSA. The quickly established technology gap between the TSA and its private partner, which uses retinal and digital fingerprint scanning tools to whitelist entrants, exemplifies the challenges government will continue to face in catching up with technology modernization.

Outdated laws can undermine government’s ability to deliver high quality experiences. For example, the Privacy Act of 1974 is nearly 50 years old and has not kept up as individuals’ privacy expectations have changed. Advances in technology, relational databases, and computer matching were beyond the realm of possibility when the legislation was initially drafted. Timely implementation of new laws is another area that illustrates the challenge government has when trying to keep pace with technological change. For example, though the 21st Century IDEA Act was signed into law in late 2018, many legislative goals have not been met and federal agencies still have a long way to go to effectively implement this law.51,52

Not all government efforts need to be inflexible or slow. A more flexible, scalable, and effective model for government transformation exists in the biannual FITARA scorecards initially implemented in 2015. Now in their fourteenth iteration, these scorecards leverage changing categories and standards that are updated with each edition, improving the government’s ability to “keep up” with changing expectations and technologies.53 To succeed in improving the customer experience, the federal government must develop new ways to meet the public’s technology expectations even as private sector tech champions move forward.

Looking Forward 

The increasing lack of trust in government cannot be ignored. with ongoing commitment, efforts already in place to improve federal customer experience capabilities can succeed. Agencies are restoring trust in government by incrementally rebuilding trust in individual government services. Improved CX requirements for federal agencies, alongside a growing workforce of CX-minded and tech-savvy federal employees, can galvanize the institutionalization of CX best practices across the federal government. The existing principles that underpin customer experience and human-centered design are essential tools to restoring trust in government.

Policymakers and other government leaders must also look towards the new challenges that will occur with the further blending of public and private goods. Public entities must continue to lead in the customer journeys they are responsible for, regardless of who executes the transaction or service. For goods and services primarily provided by government agencies, as well as those provided through public-private partnerships, agencies must continue to progress beyond understanding their customers to ensure that government programs continue to earn back customer trust.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions presented in this chapter do not represent the views of FEMA or the U.S. federal government.



1 Research Center, June 2022, Americans’ Views of Government: Decades of Distrust, Enduring Support for Its Role.

2 Perry, Jonathan. Trust in public institutions: Trends and implications for economic security. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Policy Brief 108, June 2021. sites/22/2021/08/PB_108.pdf.

3 “OECD Reinforcing Democracy Initiative,” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, July 1, 2023.

4 U.S. President, Executive Order, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, Executive Order 13985 of January 20, 2021,” Federal Register 86, no. 14 (January 25, 2021): 7009,

5 U.S. President, Executive Order, “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery To Rebuild Trust in Government, Executive Order 14058 of December 13, 2021,” Federal Register 86, no. 239 (December 16, 2021): 71357, https://www.federalregister. gov/documents/2021/12/16/2021-27380/transforming-federal-customer-experience-and-service-delivery-to-rebuild-trust-in-government.

6 Executive Office of the President, President’s Management Agenda: Priority 2 Delivering Excellent, Equitable, and Secure Federal Services and Customer Experience (Washington, D.C.: 2021),

7 Executive Office of the President, President’s Management Agenda: CAP Goal 4 Improving Customer Experience With Federal Services (Washington, D.C.: 2018),

8 U.S. President, Executive Order, “Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service, Executive Order 13571 of April 27, 2011,” Federal Register 76, no. 84 (May 2, 2011): 24339,

9 U.S. President, Executive Order, “Using Behavioral Science Insights To Better Serve the American People, Executive Order 13707 of September 15, 2015,” Federal Register 80, no. 181(September 18, 2015): 56365, the-american-people.

10 Office of Management and Budget, M-16-08 Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Establishment of the Core Federal Services Council, by Shaun Donovan, (Washington, D.C., 2016),

11 Executive Office of the President, President’s Management Agenda: Government- wide Initiative Expanded Electronic Government (Washington, D.C.: 2002),

12 Executive Office of the President, Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review: 1994 Report: Putting Customers First: Standards for Serving the American People (Washington, D.C., 1994), cusfir94/267e.html

13 U.S. President, Executive Order, “Setting Customer Service Standards, Executive Order 12862 of September 11, 1993,” Federal Register 58, no. 176 (September 14, 1993),

14 Office of Management and Budget, M-16-08 Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Establishment of the Core Federal Services Council, by Shaun Donovan, (Washington, D.C., 2016),

15 Core Federal Services were defined to be “high-volume, Federal programs that provide transactional services directly to the public.”

16 Executive Office of the President, President’s Management Agenda: Priority 2, Strategy 1 (Washington, D.C., 2021),

17 Executive Office of the President, Designated High Impact Service Providers 2021 (Washington, D.C., 2021),

18 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, White House Launches Presidential Innovation Fellows Program (Washington, D.C., 2012), https://obamawhitehouse.archives. gov/the-press-office/2012/08/23/white-house-launches-presidential-innovation-fellows- program.

19 General Services Administration, Technology Transformation Services, TTS mission, history, and values (Washington, D.C., 2023), history/.

20 Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Digital Service, Our Mission (Washington, D.C., 2023),

21 Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Digital Service, Changing how the government hires technical talent (Washington, D.C., 2023),

22 General Services Administration, Technology Transformation Services, United States Digital Corps, Who We Are (Washington, D.C., 2023),

23 U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Advocacy, About (Washington, D.C., 2023),

24 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Taxpayer Advocate Service, Our History, (Washington, D.C., 2023), our-history/.

25 U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Taxpayer Advocate Service, Our History, (Washington, D.C., 2023), our-history/.

26 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service, Medicare Beneficiary Ombudsman, (Washington, D.C., 2023),

27 Federal Housing Finance Agency, Ombudsman (Washington, D.C., 2023),

28 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, About Us, (Washington, D.C., 2023),

29 U.S. Congress, Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014: Public Law113-89 (Washington, D.C., 2014), 113publ89.pdf.

30 Wensil, Brenda, “’s 1st Year: What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Going.”, September 13, 2013.

31 Thum, Stephanie, “Will 2016 Be the Federal Government’s ‘Year of the Customer?’”, December 1, 2014.

32 Chrousos, Phaedra, “Walking in Our Customers’ Shoes.”, January 16, 2015,

33 Shueh, Jason, “GSA Innovates Services with Chief Customer Officer.” Government Technology, March 31, 2015,

34 Rose, Francis, “GSA’s Chrousos: Digital services shifting mindsets to Internet 2.0.” Federal News Network. October 8, 2015,

35 Trumbell, Mark, “Why ‘chief customer-service officer’ could hold key to Veterans Affairs reset.” Christian Science Monitor. November 10, 2014,

36 U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald Updates Employees on MyVA Reorganization Plans (Washington, D.C., 2014),

37 U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Veterans Experience Office, (Washington, D.C., 2023),

38 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Customer Experience (OCX), (Washington, D.C., 2023),

39 Doubleday, Justin, “DHS Launching New ‘customer Experience’ Directorate This Month,” Federal News Network, June 20, 2023,

40 Code for America. “Code for America Unveils First Cohort of State Partners to Launch Effort Transforming Nation’s Social Safety Net.” May 18, 2022,

41 NAVA. “Impact.” Accessed July 1, 2023,

42 U.S. Digital Response. “About.” Accessed July 1, 2023,

43 Bloomworks. “About.” Accessed July 1, 2023,

44 Examples include small business loans and student loans financed by the Small Business Administration or Department of Education, but executed and serviced by banks, as well as crop insurance and flood insurance financed by the Department of Agriculture and Federal Emergency Management Agency, but executed and serviced by private insurance companies.

45 Cordray, Richard, “Announcing the Next Generation of Federal Student Loan Servicing.” Home Room, May 19, 2022,

46 U.S. Department of Education, “U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid Awards New Contracts to Five Companies to Serve Borrowers, Reduce Delinquency, and Improve Accountability.” (Washington, D.C., 2023),

47 U.S. Department of Agriculture, “About the Risk Management Agency.” (Washington, D.C., 2021), Management-Agency.

48 Congressional Research Service, “Airport Body Scanners: The Role of Advanced Imaging Technology in Airline Passenger Screening,” September 20, 2012, https://crsreports.

49 Berti, Adele, “Timeline: The History of Airport Body Scanners,” Airport Technology, April 6, 2020, scanners.

50 Crunchbase. “Clear.” Accessed July 1, 2023,

51 Office of Management and Budget, M-23-22 Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies: Delivering a Digital First Public Experience, by Shalanda D. Young (Washington, DC, 2023).

52 Miller, Jason, “OMB gives agencies a 10-year digital services transformation framework.”Federal News Network. September 22, 2023, framework/.

53 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Information Technology: Biannual Scorecards Effective Oversight Tools, GAO 22-105659 (Washington, DC., 2022),

Previous Blog Posts on Transforming the Business of Government: Insights on Resiliency, Innovation, and Performance 


Chapter One - Emergency Preparedness and Response 

Chapter Two - Cybersecurity 

Chapter Three - Supply Chain

Chapter Four - Sustainability 

Chapter Five - Workforce 

Chapter Six - Eight Areas for Government Action - Insights on Resiliency 

Chapter Seven - AI Literacy: A Prerequisite for the Future of AI and Automation in Government

Chapter Eight - Design Principles for Responsible Use of AI to Enhance Customer Experience Using Public Procurement

Chapter Nine - Quantum Technology Challenge: What Role for the Government?

Chapter Ten - Using Linked Administrative Data to Advance Evidence-Based Policymaking

Chapter Eleven - Toward More Useful Federal Oversight

Chapter Twelve - Future of Payment Integrity within the U.S. Federal Government

Chapter Thirteen - Leveraging Inspectors General to Make Evidence-Based Decisions

Chapter Fourteen - A “One Agency” Approach to Enhanced Mission Enabling Services