Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 22, 2013

“We, the people:” clients, customers or citizens?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 22, 2013

Barack Obama spoke about “citizens” eight times yesterday in his “We, the people” inauguration speech.

1. Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens….

2. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher….

3. We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity….

4. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty….

5. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote….

6. They are the words of citizens and they represent our greatest hope….

7. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.

8. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.


The emphasis on “citizens” reminded me of something I received a few days ago from an Arizona law enforcement officer I know, Pete Smith. Here is some of what he wrote:

It has become commonplace for government agencies — from local to federal — to view the people whom they serve as “customers.” It is not anomalous to hear government leaders, with the best of intentions, encourage their subordinates to go above and beyond and deliver “excellent customer service.”

I have attended the mandatory meeting where a well-paid motivational speaker told the room full of government employees that they should strive for “customer astonishment.”

Government leaders are imprudent to promulgate the idea the people they serve are customers.

In their book “The New Public Service: Serving, Not Steering,” Janet and Robert Denhardt discuss the difference between clients, customers and citizens.

Clients (or constituents) tend to be treated as a group. This framework is premised on political theory; it results in the implementation of policies focused on a single, politically defined objective. In other words, the government employee identifies an individual problem that affects a specific group and then crafts an individual solution as defined by the government employee. Solutions tend toward the highly bureaucratic, and there is a sense “the government knows what’s best.”

The “treating people as customers” paradigm operates from an economic theory perspective. It focuses on the individual interests of each person and asks the government employee to follow the adage, “The customer is always right.” While there are clear advantages to this approach as it relates to flexibility and problem-solving, its scope is limited. The government cannot, in all cases, treat people as if they are always right. Any government worker can recognize that this model is logistically untenable. In the case of law enforcement, for instance, a Court of Appeals case explicitly states that police do not have a duty to provide police services to individuals.

The third paradigm emphasizes treating people as citizens. This approach is based on democratic theory and assumes that the person (or citizen) being served has a vested interest in the outcome. In this model the government is serving citizens, in lieu of dictating the answer to them or catering to their perceived needs. Democratic theory assumes that the government will cooperate with the citizen in an effort to gain a positive outcome.


Merely semantics?

Test for yourself whether the differences in meaning between client, customer and citizens are trivial.

Reread the eight sentences at the start of this post from Obama’s January 21st speech and in place of “citizen,” substitute “client” — or even better — “customer.”

What word best describes who to enlist in “efforts to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards”?



Little girl forms the American flag with pebbles while waiting for President Obama. [by Anthony Quintano, January 21, 2013]

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 22, 2013 @ 3:44 am

Great Post! Citizen Bellavita!

And what of due process and equal protection of the laws?

In the Administrative and Regulatory state that is modern government due process translates to the prohibition on arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking. This means NO secret administrative process and an administrative record of why the decision was made and how it was made and by who. Seldom do agencies require that correspondence with the public even include the name and phone number or e-mail of a contact point. Few government produced documents indicate whether the document produced under contract or by civil servant and the appropriation that paid for it and who did the actual preparation and who signed offed and issued it after acceptance as a deliverable.

So having deprived the Citizen of basic knowledge and information, now the Administrative and Regulatory state implicitly demands that the ill-informed and ill prepared citizen reform and contribute to ensuring the exercise of liberty and freedom.

The President himself operates his position largely in secret with few knowing exactly who he consults and who helps him to decide as to what to do. As to Congress the Members really don’t encourage access by the voters but instead those who can contribute money to their re-election.

But I do like the use of the term CITIZEN and suggest all be badged if a citizen, or a legal resident or an illegal resident so that they can be addressed appropriately. And if carrying dual citizenship badged appropriately.

Comment by Michael Brady

January 22, 2013 @ 10:51 am


“But I do like the use of the term CITIZEN and suggest all be badged if a citizen, or a legal resident or an illegal resident so that they can be addressed appropriately.”

Ooh, and there could be special emblems worn by the different categories of the untermensch residents and tattoed identification numbers for easy sorting. Yeah, what could go wrong?

Comment by forbidden_books

January 22, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

hmmm, this is a really thought-provoking one….

“Citizen” is quite the ancient Roman term. Greek, too, but more importantly Roman because our government structure is based on the Republic, not the polis. The citizen has rights, most definitively the right to vote – the other rights are historically negotiated and vary from area and epoch.

“Client” is a management term. A client is both a customer and a boss.Complicated relationship. The proletariat does not deal (has not dealt) in clients and has (had) a customer and/or a boss, never both in the same person (until the advent of the “independent contractor”).

“Customer” is a market term, in both the abstract (“the market economy”) and concrete (the physical marketplace) sense. Producers seek customers in the first sense in order to convert goods into money and complete the circuit of capital accumulation. A customer in this sense is merely a link in a chain and a necessary evil in the process of making money. The retail worker handles customers in the second sense and may either be petit-bourgeoise or employed by one (wherein petit-bourgeoise means either small business owner or retail management of a corporation). Increased use of the term “customer” indicates an attempt at increased market penetration or market ideals, capitalism being a totalitarian and colonizing system.

So the debate illustrates, I think, a further shift towards the marketization of government, and works a double function of obscuring the military-industrial oppression of people in occupied territory, folks subjected to oppression, incarceration, and a deprivation of direct participation in their own environment. Thus:

What word best describes who to enlist in “efforts to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards”?

A: Praetorian fits, I think.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 22, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

And of course Amendment IX of the Constitution!

“The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

New book out by law Prof. Dan Faber on “The Silent Amendment” referring of course to Amendment IX!

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 22, 2013 @ 1:24 pm


Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 22, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

Our modern notion of customer does not have much in common with its origins. It arose from the “customary” relationship between buyers and sellers. This was understood as a relationship of mutual benefit, especially in close knit communities — geographically intimate or not — where there would be ongoing, long-time exchange. (Only fifty years ago this concept of customer would not seem so quaint even in many urban neighborhoods.)

I have never seen a reference to caveat emptor in Roman law and at least one legal scholar has argued the principle arose in English Common Law as customary relationships broke down in the early modern period.

As the City of Rome became an expanding Republic, and certainly in the early Empire, citizens were usually also clients (cliens) of political patrons. I perceive the patron-client political dynamic initially emerged as a social arrangement to counter the anonymity and alienation of an increasingly urban context. But by the end of the Punic Wars loyalty to patron and self-interest strongly contended with more noble notions of the Rex Publica.

I appreciate the President’s call to renewed citizenship. I understand and largely accept Chris’ modern distinction between these three kinds of relationship. But I am concerned that, as with prior nations and cultures, as being in customary relationship with each other diminishes, so will the principles and habits of citizenship decline.

I perceive that safety, security, and resilience are optimized by honoring and cultivating both individual diversity and shared relationship within the bounds of an authentic community.

Comment by John DeWitt

January 22, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

As the recent election illustrates, we have too many clients and customers and not enough citizens. Individuals choose the group in which they reside and demand action accordingly. The factions that compete in our elections know this as well and take full advantage treating the individual as they wish to be treated, certainly not as citizens.

The factions focus on polices with a single objective, getting elected. In this we see: immigration policies not enforced and borders not secured and basic founding principles trampled upon in the name of “government knows best” When that single objective is combined with the customer is always right, we get a sense of entitlement with uncontrollable spending . . . everyday is Christmas.

Who best to enlist in the HLS project?

Forbidden, you suggested Praetorian? We should enlist the venal, corrupt, self-seeking, crooked mercenary?

We need Heros, not just people that calculatingly throw the word Citizen around.

Comment by Django

January 23, 2013 @ 12:46 am

Try substituting “consumer.”

Difference between the customer and the consumer? The consumer is not always right.

Comment by William R. Cumming

January 23, 2013 @ 1:49 am

Thanks Michael Brady for stimulating my thinking. So perhaps a modification–Taxpaying Citizen, Non-Taxpaying Citizen, and of course as the SCOTUS has ruled if you work for a corporation you would have the tag Corporate Citizen modified as to whether you work for a Taxpaying Corporation or Non-Taxpaying Corporate Citizen. And perhaps a further modification with Member of Congress=Owned by Corporate Citizen Named “xxx” modified by the words Non=Taxpaying Corporate Citizen!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

January 24, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

A great post!

We are at such peril The lies and this lack of knowledge of who in government – representatives of the people – are talking with – folks, a dangerous course we are on and a destiny certain for calmity….There is no question where we see such partisan ways, disvisveness, quest for suhc socilist/marxist ways and reminding me:

“The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but israel doth not know, my people doth not consider”

“Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters; they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more: The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint”

Read Isaiah and begin 1:2-5 and all this charade as we again saw at the “Benghazi Massacre” hearings and so many so above the law, yet witnessed by the Lord….

Let us recall Winston Churchill’s words….Not martin Luther King Barry Obama for we are in the 21st centure and a world far more complex and far past any understanding you ay have ….

As Winston Churchill stated….”If you tell me that our party is defeintely committed to the easygoing life, to the surrender of our possessions and interests for the sake of quietness, to putting off the evil day at all costs, and that they will go along with Chamberlain into what must inevitably be a state of subservience, if not indeed actual vassalage to Germany, and that you can do nothing to arrest this fatal tide, then I think the knowledge would simplify my course.”

Read 2 Timothy 2:3-4 —

As our forefathers warned us, We are besieged from within and from outside, Lucifer’s soldiers who seek our demise and while this WH seeks to unermine the arsenal of Democracy and spend us to a destiny of calamity, it is the Citizen of this great Republic which now needs to be strong and ask what truly happened at the “Benghazi Massacre” and this secrecy among officials, thwarted for we are on course for economic and political collapse for certain!

Recall British Foreign Secretray Anthony Eden in ’38:

“But fear of war is not so good, for fear of war paralyzes the will, and no policy that is based on fear, no policy which makes an appeal to fear, can be a policy that this country should follow.”

Caution is in the wind…economic woes certain, depression and calamity…Lucifer marches among us and unfortunately partisan politics and an obvious lack of will in real leadership which allows an immature and inexperienced media w/intent as well to roadpath our destiny, we shall fail! Are we already not doing so? Look around – a Middle East and a Germany with a fast deployment army about to again write history!

We are such a weak nation and few good men (women) to truly lead in the spirit of our Judeo-Christian principles and standforthright with Constitution and Bible in hand before the Lord!

We need not worry about spending…a deficit so….yet, we worry about lip sinc at the innaug rather than the dvisive and arrogance of a WH fully intent in circumventing who we truly are and the real American spirit!

God Bless us all!

Comment by Jason Nairn

January 28, 2013 @ 10:06 am

I have been interested in this subject as a state government security professional that has a role in protecting our state employees in offices that directly serve the public. Different agencies use these terms differently, along with other terms such as “guests”, “consumers”, “visitors”, etc. I used citizens in this way until I was advised in the development of published policy documents not to use the term “citizens” when discussing residents of our state. People are “citizens” of the United States of America and as state governments we serve our “residents” and/or the “public”. Thanks for discussing this interesting topic.

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