Public satisfaction with federal services has reached its lowest level in at least 15 years, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
The annual index, developed at the University of Michigan, showed that Americans are less happy with federal services than any time since 1999, when the numbers first covered views on the U.S. government.
The 2014 score of 64.4 out of 100 represented a 2.6-percent drop compared to 2013, marking the second consecutive year of decline, according to a report from CFI Group, a consulting firm that produces the numbers based on surveys.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Treasury Department, which is home to the Internal Revenue Service, fell well below the federal government average, with scores of 59 and 57, respectively.
The IRS also earned the lowest approval rating among eight federal agencies in a Pew Research survey this month. Forty-eight percent of respondents in that poll expressed an unfavorable opinion of the agency, which is still fighting perceptions that it harassed tea party groups during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
A 2013 inspector general’s report said the agency inappropriately targeted tax-exempt advocacy groups for additional reviews based on their names and policy positions, adding fuel to conservative suspicions that the Obama administration used its enforcement power to silence its critics.
The White House has denied directing the targeting actions, and Democrats have argued that the IRS’s inappropriate behavior affected organizations on both ends of the political spectrum.
As for the VA, it’s index score dropped 10 points compared to its 2013 level. The decline may be related to the agency’s recent record-keeping scandal, which involved tampering with patient wait-time data in ways that allowed managers to earn bonuses.
The government’s overall score for this year’s American Customer Service Index was lower than the private sector’s, according to the CGI report. The finance and insurance industry, for instance, earned a higher rating of 75, while health care managed a score of 78.
Among more than 40 industries covered, only Internet services scored lower.
“Since the number of federal employees has gone down, the decline in service quality is perhaps not surprising,” the report said. “In both the public and private sectors, customer service is often the first casualty of spending cuts, especially if the service is labor intensive.”
The National Treasury Employees Union expressed similar thoughts on funding and staff reductions for the IRS when asked about the index on Tuesday.
“Taxpayers expect and deserve quality service, and IRS employees want to provide it, but Congress must adequately fund the IRS rather than setting it up to fail,” NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley said in a statement.
National Taxpayers Advocate Nina Olson warned in a report earlier this month that U.S. taxpayers will face the worst levels of IRS service in more than a decade in the upcoming filing season, with as few as 43 percent of callers connecting with an agent. She added that the IRS will shrink by about 17,000 employees this year as the number of taxpayers grows by 7 million.
Making matters worse, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told employees this month that he might shut the agency down for several days this summer to make ends meet amid budget cuts that Congress and President Obama imposed through recent spending legislation.
The Republican-controlled Congress has shown no signs of providing additional funding this year for the IRS.