C Asework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources *

By Petersen, R. Eric | Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

C Asework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources *


Petersen, R. Eric, Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico


INTRODUCTION

Casework in a congressional office refers to the response or services that Members of Congress provide to constituents who request assistance. Casework appears to be one of the more enduring representational activities; Members of Congress have been providing such service since the early years of the American republic.[1] In contemporary times, thousands of constituents seek assistance annually from Members of Congress, with requests ranging from the simple to the complex. Members and their staffs help individual constituents deal with administrative agencies by acting as facilitators, ombudsmen, and, in some cases, advocates. Typical casework requests include the following:

* tracking a misdirected benefits payment;

* filling out a government form;

* applying for Social Security, veterans', education, and other federal benefits;

* explaining government activities or decisions;

* applying to a military service academy; [2]

* seeking relief from a federal administrative decision; and

* emigrating to the United States or applying for U.S. citizenship.

In addition to providing services to individual constituents, some congressional offices also consider as casework their liaison activities between the federal government and local governments or businesses concerned about the effects of federal legislation or regulation on their jurisdiction, or interactions with communities and nonprofit organizations seeking federal grants or other assistance.

All congressional offices carry out some type of casework. As part of the process of determining how to carry out their congressional duties, Members of Congress determine the scope of their constituent service activities. [3] Casework is conducted for various reasons, including constituent demand [4] and a broadly held understanding among Members and their staff that casework is integral to the representational duties of a Member of Congress.[5] Others believe that casework activities can be part of an outreach strategy to build political support among constituents.[6] Finally, casework is seen by some as an evaluative stage of the legislative process. Some observers suggest that casework inquiries can provide Members of Congress with a micro-level view of executive agency activities, affording Members the opportunity to evaluate whether a program is functioning as Congress intended. Constituent inquiries about specific policies, programs, or benefits may also suggest areas in which programmatic or policy changes require additional oversight, or legislative consideration.[7] As a consequence, the level and intensity of congressional casework varies among Member offices.[8]

One challenge to congressional casework is the widely held public perception that Members of Congress can initiate a broad array of actions resulting in a speedy, favorable outcome. The rules of the House and Senate, and laws and regulations governing federal executive agency activities, however, closely limit the extent of an intervention made on behalf of a constituent. When conducting casework, congressional staff cannot force an agency to expedite a case or act in favor of a constituent. Congressional staff may intervene to facilitate the appropriate administrative processes involved, encourage an agency to give a case consideration, and sometimes advocate for a favorable outcome. Subsequent sections of this report discuss House and Senate rules and guidelines, laws, and regulations affecting congressional casework, as well as the role of caseworkers. This report also provides sample outlines and document templates for establishing and managing congressional casework. Further casework materials are available at the CRS Casework Resources Web page at http://crs.gov/resources.

HOUSE AND SENATE RULES GOVERNING CASEWORK

Each chamber has rules and guidelines regarding its Members' casework activities. House rules regarding casework services are discussed in the House Ethics Manual. …

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