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Dorris Addresses Digital Government Conference

As prepared for delivery

Remarks by
Martha A. Dorris
Deputy Associate Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
Digital Government Conference
Washington, DC
December 6, 2007

 

Thank you, Stuart Willoughby, and good morning, everyone.

I was born to a milkman and his wife in 1959.

I tell you that to see the look on your faces.

A milkman? What is she, 95 years old?

I’m not.  Anyone quick enough to do the math knows I’m 48.

Which means that less than five decades ago, milk in Kingsport, Tennessee was still delivered house to house by men in refrigerated trucks.

Because that’s what the customer wanted.

At least for awhile.

Then it changed. Something better pushed in. The supermarket gave quicker and simpler access to everything we needed.  Why get milk from a truck when you could get it with the rest of the groceries? They didn’t call it a “super” market for nothing, right?

My point is that technology advanced and customer demand changed.

Expectations shifted.

And industry responded.

The marketplace is always changing. It’s no different for a company milkman than a corporate CEO, or for any of us in government working to please our customers.

Make no mistake. Our customers are consumers – the same as the folks on Dad’s old milk route. And we don’t ever want to wind up stuck in the driveway with a cold truck, 400 bottles of milk, and no customers.

Our customers are busy.  They’re stressed. The car needs brakes. The cat’s sick. The kid’s teacher wants a meeting.

The last thing they want when they go online to renew a passport, replace vital records or find a government job is another hassle. Their lives are already full of hassles.

What do they want?

I’m glad you asked.

First, they want convenience. They want official government information, day or night, on their channel of choice, be it internet by night or cell phone by day. Some want a human being on the other end of the line. Some want answers by email. Some still prefer printed publications.

And woe to the agency that says one thing on a website and something different on the phone or in print.

Second, they want all their groceries in one supermarket. (poor Dad, he didn’t stand a chance!) That is, when the average American savvy enough to hunt down something online takes the trouble to do so, he wants all government information available in one place.

Imagine that!

Anyone surprised that folks don’t want to be bounced from one place to another might just be in the wrong line of work.

What’s interesting is that while we’re talking about technology that was unimaginable in my parents’ day – from the internet itself to cutting edge stuff like RSS feeds, podcasts, blogs and the like – we’re really  talking about a principle that stretches back to the dawn of commerce: satisfying the customer.

Walt Disney said:

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.

I think we’ve achieved some of that with USA Services - our citizen service operation at GSA. The featured attraction of USA Services is of course USA.gov, the federal government’s official web portal.

USA.gov went live on September 22, 2000 under the name Firstgov.gov.

In fiscal 2002, we logged 33 million visitors.  That number rose to 97 million in fiscal 2007.  We look at USA.gov as the front door to government info.  The door is always open; the porch lamp is always lit; the welcome mat is always out. Holiday season or not, we like visitors. We want more!
Government made easy.
That’s our message, our promise, and our challenge.
The stats indicate we’re on the right track:

  • USA Services touchpoints increased by 67 percent from fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007

the other components of USA Services are:

  • 1-800-fed-info;
  • The Pueblo, Colorado publications Center; and
  • USA Services.

Working with partner agencies, USA Services has saved the federal government over $75 million in the last three years. These savings have been achieved through many of the programs and services you use, like our Firstcontact contract vehicle, Tier 1 program, FAQ system and misdirects program. These savings would not have been possible without your participation, so thank you!

Stepping back, I think we’re succeeding because we’ve listened to people and we’re providing what they want and need: tax information; resources for teachers; consumer guides; how to get a free credit report and much, much more.  The information is clearly presented, easy to understand, and consistent across all our channels.

But I also must tell you that it is during times of crisis – when timely, accurate and consistent information becomes critical and not just convenient - that we really deliver.

During the recent California wildfires, we organized web managers across the government and split into lanes as we did during Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.  Then we made sure that web managers around the government put pertinent information online.  In addition, We built a USA.gov spotlight using our search technology that allowed us to bring in government information at all levels for citizens.

After Katrina, 1-800-fed-info was up 24-7. We also used our unique contract vehicle – called “Firstcontact” - to award a task order for a contact center that helped with the huge volume of calls from victims, families and friends. We also worked closely with web managers across the government to ensure that key information was posted asap. Every day, we fed the most requested information from the call center to the web managers.

And remember when the VA lost a laptop that had personal information from 26.5 million veterans? That broke mid-afternoon on a Friday. by 8 p.m. the next night, we had a contract in place via Firstcontact that enabled trained agents to begin taking calls on Monday at noon.

These are real actions that affect real people. When we connect desperate hurricane victims with lost relatives; or steer a distraught disabled man to proper counseling; or simply provide timely answers about a pet food recall, we’re not just doing our job and providing a service. We’re also helping to redefine and improve the relationship between Americans and their government.


Sometimes it feels like the technology is like a bucking bronco – fierce, wild and hard to tame. And in truth we haven’t tamed anything; we’ve just harnessed it for the moment to do a little good for the public.

My challenge to you is, first, know your customers. Know what they need today and try to anticipate what they’ll need tomorrow. Constantly analyze how your current capabilities stack up to their expectations.

Second, be aware that citizens’ tastes and needs will change. Be ready to deploy new technologies that can meet those needs.

Third, share. If you’re not part of the federal citizen services community, sign up! That way we learn from you and share your successes with other agencies. We have a very active web manager community. We have new communities of interest for contact center leaders and those who want to get involved. Check out USAservices.gov for more info!

And last, never stop trying to get the word out.

Once upon a time in this country milk traveled a very short distance – from the cow to the table.

The hundred years between 1860 and 1960 brought changing technologies, including industrialized dairy production. The neighborhood milkman rose, and then he fell. And then he disappeared.

My family moved from Tennessee to Southern Maryland so Dad could become a crane operator.

In one of those odd twists of fate, his oldest son … my brother Bob … wound up in a business that involves the delivery of a refrigerated milk-based product – ice cream! Go figure! But Bob has tools that weren’t available to dad. He has a website; customers can place orders by e-mail; if he feels really ambitious, he can go to USA.gov, search “ice cream,” and browse more thousands of results ranging from history to hot trends.

Ultimately, Bob’s success hinges on knowing his customers. He needs to meet demand; he needs to study not just what’s down the road, but what’s around the corner.

That’s just as true for all of us.

The smartest people at GSA spent a huge chunk of time last year coming up with a new strategic plan that takes us out to 2012. I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s the bottom line:

GSA’s future hinges on effective planning, forward thinking and an unmatched ability to meet – and anticipate – the needs of our customer agencies.

In a way, our job is tougher. We have the entire population to consider. We need one finger on the pulse of the public, and another on fast-changing technology that --- before we know it --- will make what we’re doing today as passé as eight-tracks, disco and waiting for the milkman.

So know your customers, work with your peers, and be ready to deploy new technologies.

Peter Drucker said, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

I believe it.

I also believe that all of us are up to this very critical challenge.

In fact, we’re so sure you’re up to it that I’m going to end with a little announcement. Next April at IRMCO, the USA Services Team will present its first Citizen Service Agency Award. Applications are being accepted online at USAservices.gov.

In closing, I’d like to thank the Digital Government Institute and Executive Director Mike Smoyer for this opportunity to speak. Thanks as well to all of you for your attention this morning.