Bad rap on service

Thomas R. Temin

I recently addressed a group of program managers from a large bureau of a Cabinet department. These folks weren't technical, but they knew they had to modernize their systems to deliver detailed information collected from thousands of private facilities.

They also knew that their challenge wasn't figuring out how to do transactions online but in finding the best way to deliver information and share the knowledge they aggregated.

I was impressed with their sense of urgency to get with the electronic-government program. They are eager to improve their processes and the services they deliver to constituents.

Government is often criticized for serving citizens poorly. Indeed, standing in line and dealing with bureaucratic hassles is still the norm at many local, state and federal government offices.

But I'm not sure government service is any worse than what people encounter in the rest of their daily routines. Much of the private sector, in fact, has yet to apply technology toward improving service.

For example, take the health care industry with its mix of doctors, clinics, hospitals and insurance companies. It's difficult to imagine a more convoluted process or one more riddled by poor service.

Doctors are so overbooked they scarcely have time to talk to their patients. Ever call a medical office before 9 a.m.? How about an insurance company at 10 p.m. from an emergency room? Forget about it. As for bureaucracy, the medical system is choking on paper forms full of redundant data.

And in the car repair business, dealers nowadays don't stock even the most basic parts; they say it's too expensive to keep inventory. So a customer sometimes has to wait days for a minor repair.

Recently I reregistered my car at a supermarket kiosk'fast and without hassle. It's a small feat perhaps, but a telling one. Government certainly isn't light years ahead, although you can find examples of agencies delivering world-class, technology-enabled service.

It's no longer reasonable to cite government as the default reference point for bad service because, in some cases, agencies are getting it right.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: [email protected]


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