OMB memo asks agencies to study federal barriers to customer experience

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The Biden administration is calling on agencies to take a closer look at the burden individuals bear when seeking federal services.

A memo released Wednesday by the Office of Management and Budget, along with its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, directs agencies to identify and reduce charges associated with applying for and maintaining eligibility for public benefit programs, with an emphasis on reducing these barriers for underserved communities.

The memo outlines specific steps agencies should take to consider requests to collect information from the public, as part of the burden analyzes they already carry out under the Data Reduction Act 1995. paperwork.

The OMB is asking agencies to accurately reflect the time individuals spend gathering the records they need to prove their eligibility, travel time to submit documents or even waiting to speak with agency staff.

“Each step in the process represents a burden that could rightly discourage individuals or entities from completing the process and therefore not receiving the public benefits to which they are legally entitled,” the memo reads.

The guidance falls under President Joe Biden’s executive orders last year to transform the customer experience in government, advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, and create a White House Gender Policy Council. .

The Customer Experience Executive Order specifically directs agencies to better understand “time taxes” or burdens individuals must bear to access federal services.

Agencies, as part of this memo, are asked to also understand “learning costs,” including the time and effort required to research their eligibility for federal services, as well as the documents they will need to prove their eligibility.

In cases where state, local, or tribal governments collect information on behalf of federal agencies, such as unemployment insurance, the memo directs all parties to ensure that information collection charges are documented. reliably.

Agencies are also being asked to investigate “psychological cost sources,” such as the discomfort, stress or anxiety an individual might feel when trying to respond to this data collection.

OMB tells agencies to proactively consult with the people these programs are meant to serve, as well as advocacy groups, subject matter experts and frontline employees.

The memo emphasizes that the agencies cater to a wide variety of individuals, communities, and groups who cross different demographics and geographic areas.

“Such engagement and consultation can help the agency improve the accuracy of time estimates, gain additional perspectives on any challenges in the information gathering process, and solicit solutions to streamline information gatherings. “, reads the memo.

The Red Tape Reduction Act directs agencies to estimate and justify the time it takes for individuals to submit information requested by agencies. These estimates should include the expected number of respondents, the frequency of responses, and the hours spent on each response.

The memo describes outreach methods that are not subject to the ERP, such as conducting listening sessions, asking non-standard questions about a particular agency process or issue, and shadowing how individuals go through the application process.

Agencies that consult fewer than 10 people are generally not subject to the PRA.

Beyond that, the OMB offers some flexibilities under the PRA. Agencies can apply for a “generic authorization” from OIRA that allows them to collect certain information without requiring 60- and 30-day public notices.

OIRA, for example, granted the Census Bureau “emergency” approval to conduct ongoing household and small business surveys early in the COVID-19 pandemic to assess the economic impact and health that the pandemic has had on the country. These ad hoc surveys are still ongoing.

The memo also directs agencies to take steps to reduce the burden on people seeking services. The memo directs agencies to work with OIRA to determine which programs or benefits are best to prioritize.

OMB will track improvements based on how agencies simplify information requests, improve communication and outreach to people seeking these services, reduce these burdens for underserved communities, and implement leading design practices. to improve the forms.

“To more fully and transparently articulate the charges and associated costs incurred by the public when accessing essential public when accessing essential public benefit programs,” the memo reads.

The memo also asks agencies to work together to collect information about certain populations where it makes sense.

The IRS, for example, conducts the Individual Taxpayer Burden Survey to improve estimates of the time and money taxpayers spend following federal tax rules.

“To the extent that the same populations participate in programs at different agencies, agencies may consider co-sponsoring surveys or studies to examine opportunities to reduce the cumulative burdens associated with applying to multiple programs,” the memo states.

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