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Turning around trust levels in the US government – a CX guide
by Steve Foley

Trust in the US government is nearly at historic lows, according to Pew research, with fewer than one in five people stating that they trust the government always or most of the time. Democrats and Trump opponents should be reminded that this isn’t just a trend of the past four years; trust has been in freefall since October 2001 from 60% in the first year of Bush’s tenure, down to a personal high of 23% in 2010 during the Obama administration. Trump’s highest was 19% in 2017[1].

As trust declines, the level of how informed Americans feel has crept up. Three quarters feel more informed about national and international news than they did five years ago[2]. Whether this is correct or not is inconsequential. Feeling more informed undoubtedly has an effect on how sceptically you treat the government line. With a few taps of a screen, Americans can see government views fact checked and put under the microscope. Of course, these sources usually have a political agenda themselves, but sewing that seed of doubt is enough.

Seventy-five per cent of US adults believe Americans’ trust in the federal government has been shrinking, but 68% say it is very important that the US improves the level of confidence Americans have in it[3].

The good news is that US adults still believe that this can be turned around. Eighty-four per cent of Americans believe it is possible to improve the level of confidence people have in their government[4].

Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have invoked the imagery of the US, its people, culture and government as a shining city on a hill. Though we live in a different world, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the US government plays a critical – at times world-leading – role. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health were behind the sequencing of the human genome, FEMA expertly coordinates support for victims of more than 130 declared disasters each year and The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for the safest air traffic control system in the world[5].

More recently, the Small Business Administration processed more than 4 million loans in response to the coronavirus pandemic to keep local businesses running[6], proving that when the pressure is on, government can still quickly move money around to help the people that need it the most. Though we can’t expect government to fire on all cylinders like this all the time, it’s important that we recognise its ability to do so and plan for how it can do this in a less resource-heavy way in the future.

Put simply, the federal government’s role in ensuring the stability of the most powerful country in the world – and therefore dozens of countries overseas – cannot be overstated. But if trust continues to dwindle, this will have a devastating long-term effect on the American way of life.

The American Council for Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), a non-profit educational organization established to unite government and industry executives in a bid to create a more effective government, has produced a report to explain how the federal agencies can work better together to win back this trust[7].

The report calls for an end to silos, more partnerships between the private and public sector and an increased focus on data and intelligent automation. The challenge is that increasingly the service that citizens receive from government is sub-par compared to their experiences with the private sector. The customer experience hasn’t changed all that much in recent years, with static forms, busy phone lines and slow processing still the norm across many services. Take the recent events within the USPS, where drug medication through the mail is taking weeks for some in a world where Amazon can deliver to your house the same day.

A renewed focus on customer experience is essential for rebuilding this trust in a way that will last beyond whichever party is in power. In our next blog, we will explain how data can be shared between departments to begin this journey.

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[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/04/11/public-trust-in-government-1958-2019/
[2] https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/12/08/better-informed/
[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/07/22/trust-and-distrust-in-america/
[4,5,6,7] Delivering Outcomes, Building Trust, American Council for Technology 2020

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