Kathy Patterson
Kathy Patterson Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Confirming what residents have long experienced, a new report by the D.C. Auditor finds that the District government’s responses to requests for service range from “good” and “excellent” to “poor” and entirely unresponsive.

The Office of the D.C. Auditor conducted a series of telephone and email tests between September and January across seven large District agencies: the Office of Unified Communication’s 311 call center, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. Public Schools, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Public Works. ODCA says the tests were “designed to be relatively simple” in order not to disrupt those agencies’ normal workflows: For example, they involved asking for forms, hotline numbers, and other information. On a one-to-five scale of the agencies’ helpfulness (five being the highest), they received a five more than half the time. But collectively, they received a score of one in one-fifth to one-fourth of all service requests, ODCA notes. 

“Customer service provided by the agencies was frequently very good, and probably better than many residents might expect,” D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson said in a statement. “But some responses to were poor or non-existent.”

Credit: D.C. Auditor

MPD ranked the highest on customer-service testing overall, whereas DPW faired the worst, according to the auditor.

Credit: D.C. Auditor

“It might seem logical to predict that D.C. government agencies would respond to the simplest customer service requests more effectively and have more difficulty with the more complex requests, but ODCA’s customer service tests did not detect such a clear relationship,” the report explains. “Sometimes, the simplest requests were mishandled while more complex questions were handled flawlessly, and vice versa.” DPW, for instance, neither responded to a basic inquiry about purchasing a Supercan nor a “more specialized” request about commercial recycling, the auditor notes.

The auditor recommends that Mayor Muriel Bowser mandate new customer-service standards, which haven’t been updated since the Anthony Williams‘ administration. Officials should evaluate employees based on their responses and conduct more intensive training, ODCA adds, calling instances where agencies did not respond in the least “troubling.”

You can read the full audit here.