Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., speaks at a hearing last winter. Hice is one of the lawmakers with questions.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., speaks at a hearing last winter. Hice is one of the lawmakers with questions. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

Lawmakers Question Agencies on Implementation of Customer Service Act 

The law requires agencies to accept digital signatures to authorize congressional offices to help constituents.

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is pressing agencies for information on their implementation of a 2019 law to improve customer service. 

Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, and Jody Hice, R-Ga., ranking member of the subcommittee, sent letters to five customer-service heavy agencies on Wednesday about their implementation of the 2019 Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Services for Constituents Act. This law amended the 1974 Privacy Act to require agencies to accept digital signatures to authorize congressional offices to work with them on behalf of constituents.

“Individuals need the government when they are most vulnerable—because a flood destroyed their home, the pandemic affected their small business or forced them to get laid off, or they returned from a war zone and need mental and physical health care resulting from their service to this nation,” the lawmakers wrote. “Navigating these federal services can be confusing and cumbersome, so constituents often seek help from their members of Congress.”

The letters went to the Veterans Affairs Department, Internal Revenue Service, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Social Security Administration, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

As required by the law, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance in November 2020 on implementation, which gave agencies one year to carry out specified requirements. The lawmakers would like answers about the agencies’ progress by February 2. 

Several of their questions are about the technical aspects of the required change. Another asks how the digital service option will address inequities, streamline casework processes and reduce administrative burdens in alignment with the president’s management agenda.

“Consistent implementation of the law is crucial to avoid putting additional burdens on constituents seeking assistance with federal agencies and to fulfill congressional intent to simplify the casework process,” said lawmakers wrote. “Your input will inform future oversight efforts of CASES Act implementation.” 

In a related matter, a request for comment from the Office of Management and Budget published in the Federal Register on Friday seeks to further President Biden’s executive order on agencies improving citizens’ customer service experiences, which aligns with the president’s management agenda

Specifically, the request is about the possible types of information federal agencies might need to collect as they reform their customer service practices. Comments are due by March 15. 

“Whether seeking a loan, Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits, or other services provided by the federal government, individuals and businesses expect government customer services to be efficient and intuitive, just like services from leading private-sector organizations,” wrote Jason Miller, OMB deputy director of management, in the document. “Yet on Forrester's 2020 CX Index, the federal sector's average score is 10.7 points behind the private sector average and lower than any other industry or sector studied. Nearly half of the bottom 5% of the U.S. CX Index Rankings are federal agencies.”