Constituent casework data can unlock government efficiency

April 18, 2023   J.D. Rackey

  • Congressional Reform
  • Blog

Key Takeaways

  • Congress lacks the technological and information processing capacity necessary to effectively respond to problems using real-time and systematic data.
  • Constituent casework offers valuable data that could allow Congress to proactively head off problems as they develop.
  • Funding the House Modernization Initiatives Account at a robust level in FY24 will allow Congress to better deliver for the American people.

Congress has undergone a profound transformation in how it engages with constituents in recent decades. By 2004, Congress received four times more communications than it did ten years earlier – with the majority of the increase coming from online sources—and it has only ever increased since then. Most of that communication from constituents comes in the form of letters that are focused on expressing their opinion on the issues of the day or requesting more information about a member’s position. However, scattered throughout that communication are also requests for assistance in dealing with the federal bureaucracy—otherwise known as casework. While significant advancements have been made since the early days of the Internet, there is still work that needs to be done to provide Congress with the technological and information processing capacity necessary to effectively and efficiently address constituent communication and casework requests.

As the Modernization Committee’s final report from the 117th Congress notes:

“There is also no centralized, House-wide system for tagging or tracking casework, which makes it difficult for member offices and the House to know whether agencies are following through in a timely and sufficient way with casework requests and whether certain agencies or programs are receiving a high or unusual volume of requests.”

To address this problem the Modernization Committee passed Recommendation 172 which would allow Congress to track aggregated and anonymized casework data across member offices. Developing such a tool would allow members to better serve their constituents and would allow Congress to treat casework requests as systematic data that could inform oversight activities in a closer to real-time manner.

Traditionally, Congress has been perceived as a slow and oftentimes unresponsive institution. An improved casework system that treats constituent requests as valuable data would give Congress the opportunity to proactively head off problems as they develop. Over time, this would not only benefit Congress in the carrying out of its representative and oversight functions, but it would also help to ensure the American people are getting a government that works for them.

As the Modernization Committee noted, implementing such a program would require a system of standardized casework categories and tracking. It tasked the House Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) with developing such a system and to produce a comprehensive dashboard or report that would be made available to member offices and the relevant committees of jurisdiction—depending on the issue.

Ideally, this project could be funded through the House Modernization Initiatives Account, created to help support the work of the Modernization Committee. While the committee no longer exists in its initial form, its work continues, and it is important to the continued success of the House’s bipartisan modernization efforts that adequate funding be available to fully implement modernization initiatives.

As CAO Catherine Szpindor recently testified,

“The House should consider how yearly costs need to be factored into future operating budgets. New programs and initiatives need more than startup funds, they need ongoing operational support to keep them sustainable.”

Ultimately, the adage is true—you get what you pay for. If we want a Congress that has the capacity to meet the needs of the day and to act as a counterweight to the executive branch, then Congress must provide funding to match that commitment.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress worked diligently during the 116th and 117th Congresses to develop and pass 202 bipartisan recommendations, over 60 percent of which have been fully or partially implemented.

That success was made possible through funding from the House Modernization Initiatives Account. This account should continue to be funded at a robust level so that the House may continue to execute on the promise of the Modernization Committee’s recommendations, allowing Congress to take necessary steps toward improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its own internal procedures and processes so that it can better deliver for the American people.