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Casework in a Congressional Office

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Publication Date: November 1996

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 96-935

Topic: Government (Legislative power and procedure)

Abstract:

This report and its appendices present a general overview of congressional office procedures associated with handling casework and the assistance provided by a Member of Congress to help constituents in their dealings with federal agencies. It discusses options for assisting Members’ constituents and the role of Members and staff in providing casework services.

Casework consists of assistance provided by Members of Congress and their staffs at the request, and on behalf of, constituents in their dealings with federal agencies. Most federally assisted casework involves problems with social security checks, benefits, and appeals; workmen’s compensation claims, hearings, and appeals; military service problems, such as a hardship discharge from the service; veterans’ benefits, medical care, and home loan guarantees; immigration problems; and other appeals for help.

A Member of Congress usually allocates casework responsibilities to one or more staff members who review and respond to needs, complaints, or personal problems posed by constituents. The caseworker represents the Member, both to the constituents and to the agencies. Identifying the total problem is the first step for the caseworker. Upon receipt of the inquiry, most caseworkers feel it is advisable to send an acknowledgement by letter to the constituent immediately to advise him or her that the Member is aware of the request and is inquiring into the matter, and that the constituent will be contacted again when some response is forthcoming.

Every caseworker has to develop his or her own method of analyzing the nature of the constituent’s problem and how to generate the most expeditious and just resolution. Adhering to ethical and legal standards is of concern to Members of Congress and their personal and committee staff when intervening in the administrative process. Once an agency has been contacted on behalf of the constituent, the case should be tracked until completion. Responding to constituents’ needs, complaints, or problems gives a Member an opportunity to determine whether the programs of the executive agencies are functioning in accordance with legislative mandates and may indicate the need for new legislation.