3 ways the Partnership has been working to build trust in government
At the Partnership for Public Service, we believe increasing trust in the federal government is crucial to building a stronger democracy and for the government to better serve the public.
A recent national survey conducted for the Partnership in collaboration with Freedman Consulting found that 56% of Americans do not trust the federal government, part of a longstanding and unsettling trend. While there is much work to be done to reverse course, the Partnership has embarked on a number of efforts to improve the public’s view of the government that can make a difference.
Here are three initiatives the Partnership has undertaken to help the federal government improve its relationship with the public.
- Sharing positive stories:
In our most recent public opinion survey, we found people have a more favorable view of individual agencies and civil servants than the overall government. We also found evidence that messages focused on the positive work of federal agencies, individual federal employees and the impact of their services might increase the public’s trust in government. The Partnership has been telling such stories for years. Since 2002, the Partnership has produced the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals each year—often referred to as the “Sammies.” Every year, the Sammies highlight success stories of federal employees across government, recognizing public servants’ dedication and showcasing their extraordinary work. Click here to learn more about the awards and learn about the 2022 finalists (pictured above).
- Increase efficiency by making reforms such as reducing the number of presidential appointments that require Senate confirmation:
Structural reforms are another option for not only improving the government, but demonstrating the constant need to better respond to the public’s desires. There are currently about 1,200 executive branch positions presidents must fill that require Senate confirmation. The time it takes to fill these positions has increased steadily over the past three administrations. As a result, leadership positions have remained vacant for extended periods of time, creating a vacuum, delaying important policy decisions and long-term planning. Reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions—a stance the Partnership has advocated for years—would allow presidents to fill certain leadership roles more quickly and help agencies to focus on enhancing their service to the public.
- Update government technology:
Government also should focus on updating its technology and the services it provides to the public. In 2021, a majority of the federal information technology budget was spent on maintaining existing systems, yet many of these systems present challenges to the citizens that use them. Previous work by the Partnership has shown that outdated technology limits the public’s access to government services. For example, in 2020 less than half of taxpayers trying to open an account with the IRS did not meet the agency’s verification standards. In response, the IRS updated and adjusted its program to meet the needs of more people. Agencies that use updated technology and make interactions as easy as possible will tend to be more trusted.
While trust in government is low, there are ways to improve the relationship between Americans and their government. Our experience shows sharing stories that remind people of the essential services government provides, implementing reforms that enhance leadership and increasing accessibility have the potential to rebuild the public’s trust. To learn more about improving trust in government, read our full report here.
Sydney Register is an intern on the Partnership’s Research, Evaluation and Modernizing Government team.