Biden signing Executive Order
Category: Discovery & Impact, Faculty Impact

Title: Transforming the federal customer experience: What does it mean, and what’s next?

Tweet by @AmiraBoland: "Grateful to @CassSunstein @R_Thaler @donmoyn @pamela_herd @ElizabethLinos @pahlkadot @taradmcguinness and the work of so many others whose words, passion, and work are reflected in this EO"
Tweet from Amira Boland, Lead, Federal Customer Experience, Office of Management and Budget

“An Executive Order like this does not come out of nowhere, and is usually the result of a months-long process,” said Moynihan. Along with Jilke, who works with the federal Office of Evaluation Services, Moynihan and Herd began talking with Biden Administration officials back in January 2021. 

“It was clear there was an appetite for new ideas about how to improve government, especially if it addressed inequality,” said Moynihan. By February of last year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gave agencies internal guidance on how to identify administrative burden, drawing on Herd and Moynihan’s book. In May 2021, a McCourt team led a training for hundreds of government leaders across agencies on how to identify and reduce administrative burden. Two months later, a public OMB report made it a key priority. 

“The opportunity to work directly with policymakers is one of the reasons faculty and students are attracted to McCourt,” said Moynihan. “When Professor Herd and I started doing research on this topic a decade ago, it felt like there wasn’t a lot of interest, so it’s amazing to see our ideas end up in an Executive Order.”

Customer experience not customer service

“The Biden approach, on customer experience not customer service, is distinct in its emphasis on reaching those normally missed by government,” said Moynihan and Herd. “The Administration is acknowledging that the government should focus on the actual experience of the people whom it is meant to serve. That’s a huge sea-change in putting people at the center of how we think about government services and benefits.” 

The EO is likely to usher in a new era of collaboration amongst the civic technology community and those with expertise in human-centered design and administrative burdens like Moynihan and Herd, who are also encouraged by the greenlight experts now have to conduct more research. 

“Federal agencies generally don’t have permission to try new things that might fail,” said Moynihan. “The EO offers a license to experiment, using all kinds of research methods as long as they improve our understanding of how people experience government.”

Federal agencies working together to reduce burdens

The EO requires that federal agencies work together to reduce burden. “This means data-sharing and cross-agency cooperation,” said Moynihan and Herd. It also set ambitious expectations, offering 36 specific and demanding asks of 17 government agencies to reduce burdens.

“For example, an agency like the Social Security Administration will need to not just help people in Social Security programs, but also consider how to help those same individuals have easier access to other programs.”

What happens next?

Now that the EO is in place, many are left wondering what happens next. Will government agencies be able to implement the immediate and short-term tasks set in motion by the EO? Will the ongoing, government-wide initiatives become embedded into normal federal processes?

Moynihan and Herd think the presidential pressure to perform will ensure that federal agencies work more quickly and effectively. “Part of the challenge is changing the culture inside agencies. The Executive Order is a big first step and a real opportunity,” said Moynihan.

Dr. Pamela Herd is a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy. Her research focuses on administrative burden and how such burden is shaped by and further reinforces inequality. She is the co-author of “Administrative Burden: Policymaking by other Means,” which has received numerous awards. 

Dr. Donald Moynihan is the inaugural McCourt Chair and a professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy. He has presented his research on public sector performance to policymakers in the U.S. and around the world. Moynihan was selected as the 2022 Simon Award winner by the Midwest Political Science Association for his significant contributions to the scientific study of bureaucracy.