Congress discusses ways to improve ‘customer service’ for constituents

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The U.S. Capitol is often known as the People’s House, serving as a workplace for elected leaders who work for the public.

But for voters, it’s not always easy to figure out how to get the help you need from your own U.S. Representatives or U.S. Senators.

“I’ve only tried to contact a Congress Member I think once, not too much avail,” said Corey Thornton, a Texas resident visiting Washington D.C. “I wish there was a little bit more of an open forum to be able to get commentary to them and get some dialogue back just to get an understanding of how they’re making the decisions they do.”

A House committee held a hearing on Jul. 14 to discuss ways to improve the process.

Taxpayer advocates urged lawmakers to create a Congress-wide data system that tracks constituent issues to identify trends of problems.

“For constituents, this would mean a more effective case-work system overall and the reassurance that Congress is learning from their individual experiences,” said Anne Meeker, Director of Strategic Initiatives for POPVOX Foundation.

Lawmakers also called for collecting more feedback from the people they serve.

They want to know how they’re doing when it comes to things like helping people get their requests to the proper federal agencies and scheduling tours for government buildings.

“These are really important services and we have no idea if we’re doing a good job providing them,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “Our job as Representatives is to give voice to our constituents and we need to hear from them.”

“It is often said that this is a people business,” said Rep. William Timmons (R-SC). “More accurately, it’s a service business.”

Pam Thornton, a Maryland resident, said she has contacted her U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives before and has had success.

“I find them cooperative,” said Pam Thornton. “I find them to have good support staff to get back to you. They contact you by phone or by email.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said his team uses mobile office hours across the state to offer more flexibility to the people he serves.

“I come from a business background, and you have to take care of your customer, so that’s how I think about this job,” said Scott. “We do mobile office hours. You can do zoom calls with us. You can telephone us. You can email us.”

The hearing also included a discussion about Congress improving support services for staff working in the home state districts and calls to maintain more updated contact lists for liaisons at federal agencies so they can direct constituents to the right people.