Taking action to advance equity: A closer look at the president’s executive order on customer experience
President Biden’s recent executive order on the federal customer experience is an important breakthrough that puts people at the center of government services and benefits. This is the first executive order centrally focused on reducing administrative burdens for members of the public. The directive is meant to help agencies deliver more equitable services and builds on the Biden administration’s previous efforts to increase federal support for racial equity and underserved communities.
What are administrative burdens?
Administrative burdens are the costs that people encounter when trying to access a public service or benefit. These costs include things like learning about a program, determining eligibility for benefits, filling out forms and traveling to in-person appointments.
Research shows that administrative burdens do not fall equally on all individuals. Underserved communities often face larger administrative burdens because they have less time to jump through bureaucratic hoops, sometimes lack knowledge of and experience with certain regulations or programs, and may have less access to technology.
When the government works to mitigate administrative burdens, it is thus working to advance equity and meet the needs of underserved communities. Our 2021 “Government for the People” report supported this line of thinking, stating that inequities can result from a failure to reach customers where they are.
How can government reduce administrative burdens?
As our report notes, the government should use human-centered design—an approach that puts people’s needs first when developing services, programs or systems—to reach “the full range of customers” and “measure the impact of efforts to reduce administrative burden.”
In addition, an Office of Management and Budget report to the president highlighted four key ways to reduce administrative burdens and improve service equity—all of which are addressed by the president’s executive order.
- Reducing form complexity and improving comprehensibility. The executive order emphasizes improving and reducing the use of forms to access federal benefits and information. For example, the order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services to use prepopulated electronic renewal forms to ensure eligible customers have access to important benefit programs. In addition, several OMB offices will work in consultation with relevant interagency councils to develop guidance for improving data sharing among agencies and with state and local governments. Through better coordination between benefit programs, applicants and beneficiaries can be automatically enrolled in other programs for which they are eligible.
- Minimizing costly documentation requirements. The order requires agencies to move paperwork online, reduce or eliminate in-person interview requirements, remove requirements for physical signatures and decrease paperwork. These actions will save individuals time and money, making it easier for all people to apply for government services and benefits.
- Streamlining processes. The order requires the administrator of the General Services Administration to redesign USA.gov as a centralized, digital “federal front door” that will enable individuals and entities to find and learn about government benefits, services and programs more quickly and easily. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA.gov will be added to the list of government websites that take a login.gov login. Allowing all people to use the same login information for as many government websites as possible will lessen confusion and save time.
- Improving communication. The executive order aims to ensure that agencies clearly convey information about government services and programs. Agencies such as the VA, the Transportation Security Administration and the Social Security Administration will be creating mobile apps and offering online chat options through their digital platforms that allow individuals and entities to ask questions and receive accurate answers in real time.
In all, the president’s executive order promises to reduce administrative burdens by articulating a customer experience philosophy that will shape government actions for years to come and instructing agencies to establish important new customer-first policies. These actions will help our government meet the needs of those it serves, advance equity and build a stronger and more inclusive democracy.
Nicole Mackowski is an intern on the Partnership’s Research and Evaluation team.