Why Biden’s Executive Order on Customer Experience Could Be a Game-Changer

Unlike prior initiatives to simply digitize the bureaucracy, this one could actually improve access to government services

WASHINGTON, DC — DECEMBER 13: U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order related to government services in the Oval Office of the White House December 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. The executive order seeks to streamline and modernize a wide array of government services, including claiming retirement benefits, renewing passports, and filing taxes. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Most of the Kafka-esque nightmares people get stuck in happen because each service sees only the burden they impose, and not the total of the burden the customer experiences.

This example, though perhaps unusually complex because of the domain, involves mostly just one agency. Most of the customer experiences the President’s new EO targets span multiple agencies. So take the dynamics we saw across policy teams and subteams within CMS, and now try to get everyone on the same page about the customer experience across multiple agencies. Let’s say that one of the ways that a team has identified to improve the customer experience is that information a user provides to one agency (for example, informing the Social Security Administration of the death of a loved one) should be able to be used by other agencies (in order to avoid the replication of burden on the surviving family member.) But the law about data sharing across agencies is complex and nuanced. It’s easy for leadership to say that the data can be legally and safely shared, but the interpretation of those laws that’s safest for the agency is the opposite. The agency lawyers are largely incented to block data sharing, since improved customer experience is not what they are typically measured on or charged with. Many a project has died a long slow death as lawyers debated whether data could be shared.

Committed to government that works for people. Advisor to USDR. Member of the Defense Innovation Board. Past: Code for America, USDS. Mom. Keeper of chickens.