I recently had to deal with a governmental agency. To call it frustrating would be an understatement. It got me to thinking of how many times the average citizen has run into obstacles such as I did when asking for simple, basic service that one would think is simple for a public servant to provide.

Unfortunately, situations such as mine are not uncommon and with government services becoming fewer and service becoming less helpful due to cutbacks, program elimination and the like, situations such as mine are becoming commonplace. So, what is the average citizen supposed to do?

Of course, writing, calling or emailing your local city council member, state or federal legislator is a usual method of getting satisfaction when a government bureaucrat gives you the run around. But, in this day of social media, blogs and other means of online communication there are a plethora of ways in which you can make your feelings known. And you can be certain someone is watching, reading or listening. And the fear of being publicly criticized for bad service can be quite a powerful incentive for getting your problem fixed or your concern addressed.

Government is being watchedCredit: wikipedia commonsTake for example sites that “grade’ your legislators. GradeGov.com, which claims to have delivered hundreds of thousands of “report cards” to U.S. congressional offices on behalf of people who have a beef with the way their representatives and government offices are treating them. The site lets you give your representative an A to F grade on any subject or issue. So, if you are wondering what grade the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, gets you’ll find him with a C+ grade nationally – but a D+ grade from his own Ohio district citizens grade. But his counterpart, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is doing even worse. She gets an F nationally and an F from those in her district. Ouch!

Grading States

And GradeGov.com is not by any means the only site that lets you grade your government. You can grade your entire state at the Center for Public Integrity’s website. It even has an interactive map that purports to measure your state’s “risk of corruption.” So, if you live in New York state you’ll see it’s corruptive risk listed at a D, while in California your government is only a B. Matters in state government must be pretty bad because a recent review of the Center’s map shows no state with a grade of A.

There are quite a number of local grade-your-government sites. For example, if you live in Washington D.C. you can log onto grade.dc.gov and “submit comments about certain District agencies and view how District residents graded those agencies.” So, for instance, if you want to know how your fellow D.C. residents are grading the Department of Transportation, you’ll see a monthly grade that ranges from an A- to a B-. More importantly, the site offers useful information such as hours of operation, phone numbers you can call, etc.

Grading government services and individual elected officials seems to be quickly becoming a national pastime. Nearly every state in America has someone giving a letter grade for something to someone on elected office. In Illinois recently, the Cato Institute gave the state’s governor an ‘F’ on fiscal matters and in almost any school district in the U.S. schools and school districts are being judged on report cards that measure not only student performance but the performance of teachers, administrators and others.

Of course, letter grading anyone is also being used for partisan purposes. Political campaigns are chock full of one party grading the other (and usually finding fault) on their performance.

But, the idea of citizens using the World Wide Web to make a statement about how their government is meeting their expectations seems to be a tool that is becoming more and more popular.