Citizens, You’ll Soon Be Able to ‘Yelp’ the Federal Government

Consumers use online reviews to share praise and cautionary tales about millions of private businesses and services. Is this a good tool for communicating about and with Uncle Sam?

Have you had problems working with the IRS? Does going into the Social Security office make you want to scream? Or maybe you received some sound advice from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that helped you make a good shopping decision.

Good or bad, no matter what your experience is with federal agencies, you can now share it on Yelp, a website that allows people to locate and review local businesses.

That’s right. You can now review and rate a federal agency just like you would a vehicle repair shop or a new pizza joint.

Yelp recently announced that government offices and agencies can read and respond to consumers’ reviews.

“Not only is it helpful to others who are looking for information on these services, but you can actually make an impact by sharing your feedback directly with the source,” Yelp said. “In the weeks and months ahead, we’re excited to help the federal government more directly interact with and respond to the needs of citizens and to further empower the millions of Americans who use Yelp every day.”

Although the move is a concentrated effort by the government to use technology to increase transparency, open a dialogue with Americans and drive improvement to government services, using Yelp may not be the best way to do this, suggests a blog post from the Brookings Institution.

While the Yelp reviews may be helpful in providing data that the current administration needs to assess its customer service and monitor the effectiveness of any of the improvement policies that come from these efforts, Brookings said that the reviews will likely be tainted by political biases that effect a consumer’s perception of quality and attitude.

Personal beliefs, which sometimes question the fundamental existence of an agency, can create more noise than signal in the reviews. It is not hard to imagine that many of the complaints against the Transportation Security Administration may actually stem from personal values such as privacy and the role of government in ensuring security, rather than how well its agents conduct their responsibilities.

Brookings goes on to warn Americans that “if federal agencies are only criticized publicly, while their problems as discussed in online reviews are ignored, their employees will be frustrated and public trust in government will be severed.”

Do you think this plan should proceed? Do you plan on yelping any federal agencies? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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