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Agencies Focusing on Access, Equity in Service Delivery

Diversity, equity, inclusion and access are cornerstones for federal agencies as they deploy new tools and services.

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Open communication is key to creating new solutions with diversity, equity, inclusion and access (DEI&A) in mind throughout the development lifecycle, according to federal customer experience experts at the ACT-IAC CX Summit 2021 this week.

Karen Howard, director of the Internal Revenue Service’s Online Services Office, said her unit is taking a closer look at how the agency can reduce biases throughout service development and delivery. One of IRS’ key priorities in reducing these inherent biases is hiring and retaining a diverse workforce.

“[The workforce] really has to represent the audience that you serve because they’re going to bring those views, those perspectives of the people you’re really trying to service,” she said at the ACT-IAC CX Summit 2021 this week. “The second thing is you really must allow an open environment for conversation, a lively debate, people to share their ideas. They not only have to be at the table, but really involved in the conversation.”

Howard said everyone has unique experiences that create unconscious biases. As a leader, Howard has adopted the role of a “servant leader,” meaning she works to serve her team, foster an open discussion, and collaborate. The open feedback loop can help address biases and develop well-rounded, accessible solutions for all.

“We all have experiences and the first thing we look to is to align ourselves with people who have the same experience or who are in the same place,” she said. “You have to recognize that and be very cognizant of the service that you’re trying to deliver.”

As agencies work to remove biases from service delivery, Philip Lam, executive director of Identity, Technology Transformation service at the General Services Administration (GSA), said authentication and identity management need to mature before delivering equitable services.

“In government, we’re trying to really leverage private sector capabilities as much as possible, so we’re not building our own things all the time. When we leverage these capabilities, we’re inheriting some of these assumptions that other companies have,” Lam said at the ACT-IAC event. “At GSA, we’re trying to identify these sources of bias, think about what gaps there are because of them, and then identify how we can do better.”

Maura Newell, a Presidential Innovation Fellow (PIF), played a pivotal role in delivering benefits of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. She said human-centered design is critical to effectively deliver benefits and solutions to historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.

Under her current project, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, her team is working to ensure these populations have equal access to services. Newell believes empathy and equity are key drivers of a human-centered approach.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) serves a massive, diverse population, which means authentication and bias management are essential. Nicole French, TSA’s Branch Manager of Customer Service, said her agency collaborates with approximately 275 coalition groups, including Paralyzed Veterans of America, Guide Dog of America and others to better understand travel challenges and barriers.

From these meetings, TSA learned that disability and medical groups need specialized assistance at checkpoints. The agency launched the TSA Cares Program, a dedicated helpline for travelers with disabilities or special circumstances, to connect travelers with agents who will provide additional information and preparation materials for screening.

An offshoot of the TSA Cares Program is the Passengers Support Specialists Program. These specialists receive additional training to engage with passengers with disabilities and medical conditions to improve understanding and provide more equitable support to all travelers.

“In 2012, we assisted about 3,000 people,” French said. “In 2019, we assisted 27,000 people. Obviously, in 2020, there was a bit of a dip with travel, but so far in 2021, we’ve already coordinated assistance for 18,000 people.”

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