NO RESPECT. The University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (see story, Page 13) offers a revealing glimpse into how people perceive the industries, businesses and government institutions they deal with. But some of the results aren't very surprising, such as the fact that people have a low opinion of the IRS.

In fact, the IRS seems to have become a low benchmark for the index, similar to baseball's Mendoza line for a low batting average. USA Today's ACSI story carried the headline,

'Airlines score lower than IRS in customer satisfaction.' The airline industry scored 63 out of a possible 100; the IRS hit 65. The story even had this quote from study director Claes Fornell: 'If a company has a score close to the IRS' score, something is awfully wrong.' So the IRS has an image problem. The agency takes people's money and puts them through a wringer every April. (Reminder: Congress writes those tax laws that drive everybody crazy and make money for
accountants and tax lawyers, not the IRS.) But because of the agency's embrace of the Internet, the situation might not be hopeless. The IRS has pursued e-government with a user-friendly Web site loaded with forms, taxpayer tips, a
refund-tracking application and e-filing options. In the e-government category of the index, in fact, the IRS scored 10th among the 23 agencies in the main sites subcategory. Its score of 74 trailed several Health and Human Services Department sites, NASA and the National Park Service, among others, but scored higher than, for instance, the General Services Administration. The IRS might never entirely shake its 'dad-gum revenuer' image, but at least on the Web, it's well above the Mendoza line.


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