Lawmakers ask 5 agencies for update on meeting customer service legislation’s goals

Congress passed a bill in 2019 making it easier for lawmakers to help constituents get services from federal agencies.

Nearly two-and-a-half years later after being signed into law, leading members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee are asking agencies what steps they’ve taken steps to make the legislation’s goals a reality.

Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.) sent a letter to five agencies Wednesday, asking them what steps they’ve taken to implement the Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Services for Constituents (CASES) Act.

The lawmakers sent copies of their letter to the IRS, Social Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Veterans Affairs Department.

The CASES Act builds on several pieces of legislation Congress passed in recent years meant to move more public-facing government services online, and would help agencies streamline these requests after dealing with backlogs in responding to mail and phone calls from the public.

“Navigating these federal services can be confusing and cumbersome, so constituents often seek help from their members of Congress,” Connolly and Hice wrote.

The legislation updates the 47-year old Privacy Act by requiring agencies to accept digital signatures for the privacy authorization forms that constituents must submit before a member of Congress can contact agencies on behalf of their behalf.

The Office of Management and Budget, under the CASES Act, issued guidance requiring agencies to accept digital privacy authorization forms and stand up remote identity authentication capabilities by November 2021.

Prior to the CASES Act, constituents had to fax, scan or mail their representative to authorize their congressional office to contact any federal agency on their behalf.

Connolly and Hice said the CASES Act’s goals line up with many of the Biden administration’s priorities in a recent executive order on improving customer experience across agencies.

“If done right, a streamlined implementation of the CASES Act will reduce the burden on agencies, caseworkers, and the public,” the lawmakers wrote.

OMB’s guidance gives agencies the flexibility to implement these capabilities on their own, but Connolly and Hice are asking agencies whether they plan to use Login.gov, a digital identity shared service managed by the General Services Administration, or a commercial solution.

The lawmakers asked agencies how they’re testing their identity-proofing capabilities to ensure the service is “user-friendly, intuitive, and based in a customer-focused design,” as well as how else agencies might be able to verify a constituent’s identity if they’re unable or unwilling to provide their personally identifiable information online.

OMB’s guidance requires agencies “provide a digital service option to ensure that individuals have the ability to digitally request access to or consent to disclosure of their records.”

The lawmakers ask how a digital authorization will meet some of the customer experience goals in the President’s Management Agenda, such as reducing administrative burden, addressing inequities and streamlining casework.

OMB’s guidance streamlines aspects of the Privacy Act, but also directs agencies to “ensure that they limit the collection of personally identifiable information to the minimum that is directly relevant and necessary for this purpose.”

Connolly and Hice have asked agencies what steps they’ve taken to reduce the amount of personally identifiable information they need to verify a constituent’s identity, and whether they’ve explored alternatives to asking for an individual’s Social Security number.

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