Senate Considers Bill to Modernize Constituent Services

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The CASES Act is one of several customer experience-related bills Congress is considering.

A Senate committee passed a bill Monday that would simplify and modernize the process through which constituents authorize congressional offices to engage federal agencies on their behalves.

The bipartisan Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Services for Constituents Act, or CASES, introduced by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would revise the Privacy Act of 1974 to give constituents the option to electronically authorize congressional offices to engage federal agencies.

Under current law, members of Congress must obtain written authorization from constituents before they can engage, intervene or resolve the constituent’s case.

“As elected officials, making sure that we can help our constituents navigate the federal government easily and in a timely way is one of our most important responsibilities,” Carper said in a statement. “When the American taxpayers we represent need assistance with Social Security, Medicare, Veteran Affairs or any other federal agency, they should be able to get the help and information they need quickly and in a straightforward manner. This bipartisan, bicameral bill helps to ensure that elected officials like myself can be even more effective advocates for our constituents by modernizing our constituent services process.”

The bill has three main tenets. First, it would require the Office of Management and Budget to direct agencies to establish a system for electronically submitting a privacy release form. It would also require OMB to create a uniform privacy release form that could be used across all agencies. Lastly, it would mandate OMB to develop authentication procedures to ensure accuracy and privacy protections for constituents.

A companion bill in the House, introduced by Reps. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., and Sam Graves, R-Mo., passed 379 to 0 earlier this year. The bill mirrors legislation that Congress failed to pass in 2017. This time around, there is renewed—and bipartisan—momentum behind legislation that improves government service delivery. Earlier this month, Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and James Lankford, R-Okla., reintroduced the Federal Agency Customer Experience Act of 2019, which would speed up the way agencies gather feedback from agencies through tools like surveys. The FACE Act also copies a 2017 bill that didn’t quite clear Congress.

“Each year, thousands of Ohioans contact my office for help resolving issues with federal agencies,” Portman said in a statement. “The CASES Act will make it easier for them and all Americans to interact with their government when they need help, and it will help members of Congress better serve their constituents. I applaud the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for approving this common-sense bill and hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support it when it comes to the Senate floor.”