Renewing Passports Online, Scheduling IRS Calls Among Changes to U.S. Government Services

A new executive order aimed at streamlining federal services is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden.

Details on the executive order were released on Monday, with the order expected to be signed in the afternoon. These measures are meant to reduce Americans' time waiting for help regarding federal services. The White House is hoping these changes will help to restore faith in a government that has had increasingly lower approval rates over the past year.

"This executive order is really focused on how the federal government delivers services to the public and ensuring that we deliver high-quality product to the public," said senior adviser Neera Tanden. "As we ask the government to do more, we can ensure that the government does it better."

Some of the services that will be improved upon as a result of the order include the ability to renew their passports online, bypassing the traditional way of renewal. This procedure originally included printing forms and paying for the renewal with a paper check or money order. Another major change that could make the lives of Americans easier is the ability to schedule callbacks with the IRS rather than wait on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.

The changes outlined in the executive order are expected to roll out across 17 federal agencies within 2022.

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A new executive order should bring government services into the digital era, said Bill Sweeney. One of the services is online passport renewal. Above, a passport processing employee uses a stack of blank passports to print a new one at the Miami Passport Agency June 22, 2007, in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The new executive order should bring government services into the digital era, said Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs for AARP, an association for older Americans.

"We do our banking online," Sweeney said. "We do our work online. We can order food online. We can order groceries from our phone. I think people are accustomed to that now and they're demanding that government keep up as well."

Officials said that existing funds should be enough for agencies to pay for improvements and that better service and efficiency would ultimately save the government money. Biden planned to sign the order Monday afternoon.

Paul Light, a public policy professor at New York University and an expert on the federal bureaucracy, said the initiative could be a big deal, although the Biden administration will face obstacles.

"The problem is not in the hope but in the bureaucratic morass," Light said. "The fight to improve government services requires a broad retooling of the bureaucratic wiring and flattening of the hierarchy. The federal government may be willing, but its technology is ancient, its personnel system sluggish, the bureaucratic layering unrelenting."

The government has identified 35 service providers in federal agencies that can reduce administrative burdens and develop "new online tools and technologies that can provide a simple, seamless, and secure customer experience," according to a White House fact sheet.

For retirees and the nearly 4 million Americans who turn 65 each year, the order requires that they be able to claim Social Security benefits online more easily. Medicare recipients are to be able to access personalized online tools for saving money on drugs and managing their health care.

New security machines and computers with advanced screening features are to streamline the process of going through security lines for the roughly 2 million people who fly daily.

The 45 million people with student debt will be able to manage their federal loans through a single portal, instead of several websites with different passwords. Paperwork is also to be reduced for people seeking loan forgiveness.

Natural disasters strike about 25 million U.S. households and small businesses each year. The survivors seeking federal aid should no longer be required to complete multiple forms across several agencies while being able to use virtual inspections and smartphone pictures of the damage to support claims.

Military veterans are to be able to access their benefits with a single login. Poorer families should find it easier to certify their incomes and enroll in eligible social safety net programs without the extra paperwork. Loan programs for small businesses and farmers are to become more responsive. Families receiving food aid should be able to buy groceries online. It should become easier to update mailing addresses with the government or change names with the Social Security Administration.

Anne Zimmerman, an accountant based in the Cincinnati area, said the changes in the order are necessary because companies are frequently on their own when navigating the federal bureaucracy. As co-chair of the advocacy group Small Business for America's Future, she was briefed by the White House about the order before the announcement.

"It's needed because things have really gotten worse," Zimmerman said. "There's too big a labyrinth to weed your way through when you're trying to deal with the government."

Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said the changes were geared to help enhance "trust between the public and its government." Online forms could also reduce fraud risks, while the administration takes steps to ensure that personal information is secure.

Why hasn't all of this happened earlier?

Officials said the pandemic caused increased calls to the IRS and other agencies. It also showed how the government could adjust and innovate despite closed offices and remote workers.

Even if government services improve, it remains unclear if that will pay off politically for Biden, whose efforts to steer the economy to the strongest growth since 1984 have been overshadowed by inflation.

Roughly a third of Americans called the economy "good" under the president's watch, down from 47 percent in June, according to a survey this month by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll found that 48 percent approve of Biden, while 51 percent disapprove.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The White House is hoping new changes will help to restore faith in a government that has had increasingly lower approval rates over the past year. Above, President Joe Biden gestures to members of the media as he arrives at the White House in Washington, December 12, 2021, after spending the weekend in Wilmington, Delaware. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik