The federal government still isn’t winning any popularity contests with the public these days, but a new report released Monday found that 31 percent of Americans are very satisfied with federal service overall this year, up from 24 percent a year ago.

While Americans are still lukewarm about their government, they signaled improvements in agency responsiveness and listed the top performing federal agencies as the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service, according to the survey by MeriTalk for RightNow, a customer service management firm company.

The study: “Uncle Sam at Your Service: The 2011 Federal Customer Experience Study,” surveyed 1,000 Americans in July on their perception of government surveys.

Often maligned and attacked, especially by politicians seeking to run against Washington, the survey found some positive news for the federal government. While 39 percent of Americans are very satisfied with the “responsiveness” of typical agencies, the top-rated agencies satisfy the public 63 percent of the time, suggesting what’s possible.

Agencies also seem to be making year-over-year progress on a various customer service attributes:

Typical Agency Best
Satisfaction with:: 2010 2011 2011
Issue Resolution 26% 35% 59%
Responsiveness 27% 39% 63%
Courtesy/professionalism 34% 38% 62%
Clarity 23% 30% 52%
Consistency 24% 35% 61%
Transparency 20% 24% 46%
Self-service 22% 28% 47%

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. The survey found that 79 percent of Americans believe the federal government can improve customer service.

But when asked whether they would be willing to pay $10 more in taxes each year for better service, they got a resounding “No.” In 2011, only 30 percent of the respondents said they would be willing to pay the $10, down from 42 percent in 2010.

The feds are still falling behind the private sector in satisfaction for delivering services. Some 44 percent said they were satisfied with private sector service, far more than the 31 percent with the public sector.

Nevertheless, 67 percent of the public rated their interaction “good” or “excellent” in dealing with a federal agency’s website; that was in contrast to 52 percent who gave a comparable rating for in person service and and 51 percent for service via email and phone.

A growing number of Americans are interested in connecting with the government through mobile apps, the study found.

While only 3 percent of Americans have used a federal mobile app in the last 12 months, 18 percent say they would like to connect with agencies this way. Still in its infancy with the federal government, mobile apps scored only 26 percent satisfaction, social media 24 percent and texting 25 percent.

There’s still plenty of work to do to improve the federal service to the public. The survey found:

  • The No. 1 area where federal agencies could improve is to make it easier to determine where a person should go for an answer.
  • Avoid the need for customers to repeat themselves. Nearly all Americans – 91 percent – want to tell their story only once, and 39 percent are willing to let the government store some of their personal information if it means improved customer service.