House OKs customer service bill for federal agencies

WASHINGTON — As hard as it may be to imagine, Washington cares about customer service.

So says the House of Representatives, which approved the Government Customer Service Improvement Act on Tuesday.

No one suggested a federal version of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's directive for state workers to cheerfully answer the phone, "It's a great day in South Carolina."

Instead, the bill, passed on a voice vote this week, would require the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish customer service performance standards for federal agencies and require departments to name customer relations representatives.

A similar bill, supported by lawmakers from both parties, is awaiting a Senate vote.

"When taxpayers interact with a government agency, they deserve the same timely, reliable assistance they would expect from a private sector business," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, the bill's chief sponsor.

Just 31 percent of people surveyed last year were very satisfied with federal customer service, he noted.

Deficit-minded lawmakers removed from the bill a provision that would have allowed cash incentives to workers who excel at customer service.

But Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., said that employees will be held accountable for achieving results.

And Julie Tagen, legislative director at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said, "Federal agencies value customer service and already have the power to hold employees accountable for quality customer service standards."

Citing looming budget cuts, she added that "Congress should be using this time to deal with the bigger issues facing our nation ... . What will happen to customer service if Social Security employees and VA nurses are forced to keep up their already large workload with even fewer means?"

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