President Obama issued an executive order on Tuesday which, according to White House senior advisor Maya Shankar, “directs all Federal agencies” to use common sense techniques to “make government programs easier to access”.
Specifically, a Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST) has been assembled for the past year to guide department heads in streamlining application processes, enhance communication and improve efficiency of their programs and services.
According to SBST’s first annual report accompanied by the Order entitled “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People”, projects initiated by the cross-agency group “have led to increases in the number of military personnel saving for retirement, farmers obtaining credit and more people signing up for health insurance.”
Besides promoting social welfare, “improvements in government program integrity and efficiency are saving taxpayer dollars.”
Specifically, the “behavioral” techniques used to promote government programs have led to an increase in federal employees enrolling in a retirement savings plan, a 22 percent increase for military service-members alone.
In addition, the improvements led to a 5.7 percent increase in college enrollment for high school graduates; 29.6 percent increase in student loan borrowers making a payment after missing the deadline for the first time; 400 percent increase in income-driven repayment plans for student loan borrowers who were behind on their repayment schedule; 9 percent increase in application access for education and career counseling benefits for Veterans.
On the government efficiency side, an increase of $1.59 million in government fees were collected in a three month period as the result of an overhauled online sales-entry form for government vendors; 45 percent increase in online payments for government debt collection.
While the numbers may seem mundane, inefficiency has been one of the public’s top complaints about the federal government for a long time now. Minor improvements over a short period of time is a step in the right direction to help propel sometimes multi-century old bureaucracies into the new millennium.