In-Depth: Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to modernize a core function of congressional office operations and streamline customer service for constituents by giving constituents the option to electronically authorize their members of Congress to engage a federal agency on their behalf:
“After Louisiana’s historic flooding last [in the fall of 2016], we were all-hands-on-deck to field the thousands of calls from flood victims in need of help. It was embarrassing to have to tell people who literally just lost everything – including their printers and internet – that the law requires them to print and fax, scan, or mail in a sheet of paper authorizing us to speak to FEMA or any other agency before we could do anything. So, we immediately started efforts to identify the problem and how to fix it. It’s amazing that – in a world where nearly all adult Americans use the internet, 75% of households have broadband access in their homes and more than 80% carry a smartphone – Washington is largely doing its business the same way it did more than a quarter of a century ago. Compare your experience with FEMA or the VA with what you get from private businesses, and it’s no wonder the federal government’s approval rating is currently lower than any other sector in the United States.”
Stephanie Thum, the former vice president of customer experience at the Export-Import Bank of the United States, expressed her support for this bill in September 2017, after it was introduced in the 115th Congress:
“While it's true that very few bills introduced in Congress become law, one piece of bipartisan legislation gaining momentum in the House right now is worth tracking, especially if digital tools, customer experience, and citizen experience are part of the world you live in… [The CASES Act] is important for a few reasons. Let’s say you’re a citizen who has an issue with the Veterans Affairs Department, Medicare or Medicaid, Social Security Administration or Federal Emergency Management Agency that you’ve been unable to resolve on your own. Your issue has gotten to the point that you need your elected official to intervene with that agency on your behalf. Right now by law you have to physically print, sign and hand carry or mail a privacy release form to your elected official before they can engage that agency on your behalf. There is no digital alternative. It’s that way—the paper way—because of The Privacy Act of 1974, which came about well before technology became a truly viable way of serving citizens. CASES would amend the law so that electronic authorizations would be allowable. The path would be clear for a new digital tool or process that would help citizens engage their elected officials from the convenience of their smartphone or tablet. Under the proposed legislation, the Office of Management and Budget would be required to create a uniform release form to be used across all agencies. CASES is timely, in part, due to the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”
Thum also pointed out that even if this bill doesn’t pass, it’s the start of an important conversation about digital tools for citizens:
“Of course, as anyone who has worked in the trenches of agency government customer experience, customer service, and information technology knows, if CASES becomes law, implementation won't be fast, cheap, or easy. But, even if CASES doesn't become law, discussions will move forward now surrounding laws, regulations, and rules that could be standing in the way of creating digital tools that matter to citizens. That particular conversation hasn't risen to the surface enough. It's time now.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), in the current Congress. Last Congress, this bill passed the House by voice vote with the support of 18 cosponsors, including 14 Republicans and four Democrats.
Of Note: The Privacy Act of 1974 requires members of Congress or their staff to have written authorization before they can obtain information about an individual’s case. This means that constituents in need of assistance to resolve issues with the VA, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other federal agencies must physically print, sign, and fail, mail or hand-deliver a privacy release form to their congressional office before the office can take action on their behalf. This process is an inconvenience to constituents and can cause unnecessarily delayed issue resolution.
Currently, the need for continued use of the paper “privacy release form” (PRF) is driven by the fact that federal agencies typically don’t accept electronic signatures.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / SvetaZi)