Congress has many responsibilities that involve much more than simply making and passing laws. They are the representatives of the people, and with that position comes the responsibility of using the power of their offices to help the men, women, and children of their districts.
Constituent services are one of the greatest duties—as well as assets—charged to Congress. Throughout the nation, lawmakers have state and district offices which are used for the purpose of handling constituent casework. On average, the annual cost for all of Congress’ constituent services can be as high as $400 million, and this comes from the $550 million that is allocated to all members’ personal offices.
These congressional offices have the power to deal with a wide range of issues or problems that citizens might have with the government, especially at the federal level. If it is a House member’s office, they can anticipate dealing with dozens of constituent cases while a senator’s office can see hundreds at any given time. The agencies that typically draw the most attention are the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, and Citizen and Immigration Services; these issues can include an important benefit check not coming in, an incorrectly calculated tax refund, or a green card application for a family member being held up.
These congressional constituent services are sometimes looked at as a collective customer service department for the federal government, although federal agencies already have their own customer service departments. Therefore, the purpose of these congressional offices is for staffers to step in and help people navigate the system or get involved if the system has already failed. Think of it as a consumer advocate: They help citizens navigate bureaucracy and translate the jargon. These congressional offices also help inform agency leaders about minor, recurring, or even major lapses in the functioning of the executive branch.
These constituent services can come in handy, especially when election season rolls around. The services they provided to the men and women they represent can go a long way, and those who benefit from it tend to remember the help they received when they go into the voting booths. One example of quality constituent service leading to a boost in votes comes from Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In 2014, McConnell helped a woman retrieve her daughter who had been abducted by her ex-husband and taken to Africa. By working with the State Department, McConnell was able to help the woman bring her daughter back home. This showed not only that he had been an effective leader and politician in Washington, but also humanized him for the public.
Constituent services continue to prove to be a valuable asset to the congressional office. With the power they have to help, it is important for the public to take full advantage of these services. Testimonials and positive reviews of the service received can be useful to keep that person in office in the next election.