Although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gets a lot of things right, one action (or lack thereof) that has left many scratching their heads is the Department’s stance on making customer service compliment and complaint data publicly available. In an era where the public and private sectors alike are using data analytics to better understand and manage resources, it is frustrating to know that access to this data could potentially unlock doors to better efficiency. Yet, for one reason or another, DHS has kept this data away from the public eye. This is a missed opportunity, as public access to analyze and learn from this data would improve our national economy, especially the travel and tourism industries.

White House statements provide the basis for my assertion:

“On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed an executive order that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information. Making information about government operations more readily available and useful is also core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government.”

It appears that the White House is advocating the availability of this sort of information. The White House also issued a policy memorandum to executive departments and agencies and states: “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”

These two statements suggest that all Departments, including DHS, will develop a consistent policy on the availability of customer service data to the American public. Yet, it is obvious that DHS has not done so. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has one policy and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has another. TSA releases customer service complaint data to the American public through monthly Department of Transportation (DOT) publications called Air Travel Consumer Reports. The availability and use of this data has been valuable to the travel and tourism industry. While CBP collects similar data for our ports of entry, however, it has not made this data public.

Many arguments can be made for CBP’s inaction, but I find them to be unfounded. First, if CBP argued that this data is not being provided to the public for national security reasons, then I would ask why TSA already reports their customer service complaints data. If TSA is doing it, then there is no reason why CBP should not be able to do it.

Second, if CBP argues that they received too few complaints, then I would find this to be baseless from a statistics perspective. Their universe of complaints and compliments is not a sample drawn from larger population; it is the total number of complaints and compliments that they received. Supposedly, every person who crossed our borders at our ports of entry had just as much an opportunity to complain to or compliment CBP as the next person.

DHS needs to create a policy for reporting customer service data and making it available to the public. The ability to study the data and create goals for improvement would be two useful outcomes, and it would finally align the Department’s actions with the vision laid out by the Obama Administration, in terms of transparency.

Gary S. Becker is the Chief Economist for Catalyst Partners, LLC. In this role, Becker offers economic analyses to clients on matters relating to homeland security, including the cost impact of proposed and final rulemakings. He offers advice on how to save money while achieving desired security benefits. Read More