Takeaways on Trust Today in Government

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 20% of U.S. adults trust the federal government to do what’s right all or most of the time. And respondents charted those bleak numbers before an embittered election.

The twist is, agencies desperately depend on citizen trust to achieve their missions, which makes mistrust a stumbling block of major proportions. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau’s whole operation depends on citizens answering questions that go on to inform policy, determine funding and track population trends. Without trust, the model falls apart, and government has to exhaust resources going door to door and calculating incomplete population algebra.

“We had the opportunity at the Census to engage different populations and different segments through digital advertising,” said Zack Schwartz, Division Chief for the Census’s IT Service Management Office.

The bureau’s digital engagement efforts were twofold. First, it had to market differently than in years past, swapping out existing advertisements with new ones that – for example – displayed door-knockers wearing masks. And second, to headlines galore, the Census delivered its survey online for the first time ever – in retrospect, a clairvoyant and fortuitous call as the 2020 collection coincided with COVID-19.

The Census Bureau’s story isn’t unique in government, however. Digital and multichannel demand for services soared across agencies of all kinds. Government had to respond.

On a Thursday webinar, GovLoop invited speakers with a variety of experiences to explain how agencies met citizen needs and fostered trust in inclement times.

Main Points From the Discussion

Mental health crises have trended upward with case counts and the subsequent fallout. A government-recognized mental health authority in Austin, Integral Care, has experienced more calls every month since the start of the pandemic. To maintain trust and meet its mission, it has used cloud services to field more calls, offer more services and maintain 24/7 availability.

“Citizen trust is not just empowering, but it’s survival for some of our citizens.” – Sunila Levi, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer, Integral Care

Commerce Department interactions rely on trust in healthy data, goodwill and security. Through data connection portals carried out over the cloud, the department syncs timely information with the private sector and businesses across the world. The cloud also lets the department keep pace with technology cycles, so that it can match industry-leading tech.

“If there’s any positive outcome of this, that might be one – is being able to be more responsive and adaptive to the needs of the citizenry.” – Kevin Coyne, Deputy CIO (Acting) and Chief Enterprise Architect, Bureau of Industry and Security, Commerce Department

“Technology has actually changed so much that it’s enabled us to build those systems to systems.” – Sumit Puri, Enterprise Architect and Agile Certified Practitioner, Commerce Department

According to multichannel cloud company Genesys, 30 to 50% of all inbound touchpoints in government are repeat requests. In simple terms, that shows citizens often can’t get all their questions answered the first time. Looking ahead, mapping out customer journeys across channels and roping in automation could relieve headaches for constituents and workloads for public servants. Automation can handle manual, repetitive tasks, accounting for the full customer picture across communication channels.  

“The trust factor there is when constituents are able to find the information they’re looking for then they’re able to be served.” – James Ward, Vice President, U.S. Public Sector, Genesys

The Census Bureau isn’t just fighting against truancy; it’s actively countering attempts to delegitimize its process and counts. A nonpartisan agency, the bureau has made it clear that its collections are secure and significant.

“Moving forward, we’re really going to focus on fighting with data and with our partners against misinformation.” – Zack Schwartz, Division Chief, IT Service Management Office, U.S. Census Bureau


  1. People want options, and governments need to respond. Citizens should be able to contact governments online, over the phone or in-person, where it makes sense. Governments, in turn, need to ensure – no matter the strain on systems – these services are available, secure and seamless.
  2. Half of the battle is marketing. Citizens need to know they have options for talking to their government. Advertising should engage every audience and be timely and relevant. Bus banners and social media ads, for example, reach different corners of society.
  3. Data-sharing is paramount for synchronizing services. Standardization, security and pipelines must be in place for interactions between citizens and government.

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