Fred Bernstein wrote an insightful opinion piece for The New York Times where he challenges the concept of constituent services. Constituent services are provided by elected representatives, such as congressmen, senators, elected county officials, etc.
Typically a representative, upon receiving a complaint or request for help from a citizen, will contact an agency in order to expedite some remedy or hasten an investigation into a citizen’s complaint. Over my career I’ve acted on a number of these inquiries from county officials to members of Congress. Once they cross your desk you literally drop everything you were doing.
Unfortunately, the faster you were at turning around a request from a U.S. congressman, the more likely you become the go-to guy for handling them. I always found these requests annoying and felt that one screw up and the bullying power of a U.S. congressman or state senator would come down on me quick.
Mr. Bernstein argues in his piece that these services violate the executive branch’s turf and eventually lead to a government dominated by the few and favored versus the masses. I never looked at constituent services from that angle before and admit that it’s an intriguing perspective. Imagine the reduction in stress some analyst in a regulatory agency would experience if they didn’t have to look at letterhead that said “Florida Legislature” or “United States House of Representatives.
It would take some pressure off of some congressman or state delegate also. They could reduce time spent following up on complaints by merely referring citizens directly to an agency versus listening to a complaint, promising to resolve it, writing letters to an agency, and fielding follow-calls from citizen and agency.
Just as importantly, particularly on the federal side, congressmen would not risk looking like they were trying to be the executive branch. Congress’ main duty is to represent the citizenry by writing effective law, not to enforce the law. Again, directing a citizen to an agency most likely described in legislation as responsible for addressing their concern is one thing. Wasting precious resources playing shadow executive branch is quite another.