One small policy change means a big difference for citizens
In August 2016, a slow-moving storm pummeled southern Louisiana for several days, inundating some areas with upwards of 30 inches of rain, ravaging the region with widespread flooding and record-high river swells.
Registering as a 500-year event, the floods displaced thousands who would eventually return to irrevocable damage and to a situation that called for swift action from federal agencies to help put the pieces back together. Understanding the gravity of the situation, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) and caseworkers from his office leapt into action only to find themselves hamstrung due to an outdated provision in the Privacy Act of 1974 — a decades-old law that requires government officials to obtain written authorization from constituents for them to intervene with federal agencies on their behalf.
Graves heard pleas from Louisianans for help with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies but could only direct them to a website where they had to print, sign and return a hard copy Privacy Act release form. Torn over the notion that a citizen who just lost everything could not get the help they so desperately needed without jumping through hoops, Graves introduced the Creating Advanced Streamlined Electronic Services (CASES) for Constituents Act, which gives the public the option to grant digital authorizations to their Members of Congress to work on their behalf with a federal agency.
Signed into law by President Trump on Aug. 22, 2019, the CASES Act is a small yet important federal policy change that makes a big difference for citizens, especially for those in the greatest need. Not only does it remove barriers to allow elected officials to better serve their constituents, but it also is a major step forward in modernizing how our government functions in this digital age.
Removing Barriers to Help Citizens Faster
More convenience. Better efficiency. Quicker access to resources. These are all benefits of the CASES Act. For elected officials, the CASES Act allows them to advocate more effectively on behalf of their constituents, removing barriers for taxpayers as they seek to access the assistance they need from a federal agency or program, including Medicare, Veterans Affairs and Social Security. The CASES Act also represents a bipartisan effort from Congress to modernize government experiences and deliver greater value to the public.
With the CASES Act now the law of the land, agencies must:
- Accept electronic verification and authentication processes for citizens to prove their identity
- Accept electronic authorization processes, allowing agencies and congressional offices to access an individual’s records and share them across agencies.
- Create a template for electronic consent and access forms that will be used by congressional offices and across agencies.
- Comply with OMB guidance to agencies on how to implement the above changes.
These changes might seem small, but they are significant. The end result for citizens means using the same digital workflow technology they already use to manage their finances, process insurance claims and file their taxes — including electronic signatures, HTML-5 digital forms, etc. — all while ensuring their privacy and protecting their personal information. It helps cut back on unnecessary paperwork and serves as a model for other bipartisan efforts to bring the government into the 21st Century.
Keeping Up with the Times
Rep. Graves and the bipartisan cosponsors Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), as well as the White House Office of American Innovation, made the right call when they put forth and pushed forward the CASES Act. It is a much-needed refresh on a well-intentioned, but outdated law. I cannot underscore enough the impact that such a commonsense measure will ultimately have on citizens across the nation and within government operations across every federal agency and congressional office.
The CASES Act is a significant step in the right direction for enhancing the citizen experience. Legislators should use this as a guidepost to rework other outdated policies that were originally intended to protect citizens but are long overdue for a refresh.
Seeing how far technology has come and how much society has changed consequently, Congress must continue to follow the example set by Rep. Graves and make way for the small but significant changes necessary to help federal agencies efficiently execute their missions.