We all know members of Congress serve on committees, introduce legislation and vote on bills. But another important duty is interacting with and assisting constituents. In fact, there are a number of ways—you might not be aware of—that your federal elected official can be of service to you. Here are five.
1) Assistance with federal government agencies
In early 2017, U.S. Sen. James Lankford was able to serve an Oklahoma family in the wake of a tragic accident. One of his constituents, who had served as a missionary pilot in Mexico during his retirement, was killed in a plane crash. The family wanted the pilot’s “adopted” son to attend the funeral but the Mexican-national didn’t have a visa to enter the United States. The family reached out to Lankford’s office. Normally, obtaining the necessary document in such a short time would have been impossible, but Lankford was able to intervene with the State Department and secure a last-minute bereavement visa on the family’s behalf.
In addition to this family, Lankford was active in more than 3,100 cases in 2017, serving as an intermediary between Oklahomans and federal government agencies.
“Sen. Lankford’s focus, first and foremost, is serving the people of Oklahoma. His office provides a number of constituent services and there are several ways to contact his office—by phone, email and mail,” says Aly Beley, spokesman for Sen. Lankford.
Requests for help with various federal agencies are some of the most common inquiries received by congressional offices.
Each year, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s office receives as many as 800 requests for assistance with agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Medicare and FEMA. In response, Cole is able inquire on behalf of constituents as to the status of applications that are pending.
“Examples of constituents we help are a veteran who would like us to inquire on the status of the application or appeal they filed with the Veterans Administration; a college student who applied for a passport but has not received it a week before their trip; a member of the military who filed a visa application for their spouse and would like to know the status; or someone who has filed an application for disability benefits and has concerns about their claim or back pay from a federal agency,” says Teresa Davis, communications director for Rep. Cole.
Although a congressional office cannot guarantee the outcome of an inquiry, they do their best to help Oklahomans receive a timely response from federal agencies. Constituents should allow ample time for their cases to be reviewed.
2) Visits to Washington, D.C.
Planning a trip to the nation’s capital? Congressional offices can help.
An elected official can assist with reserving tours of various landmarks: the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and other attractions. Note that White House tours must be requested at least 3 weeks before desired tour date, and not more than 3 months prior.
While in Washington, D.C., make plans to visit an Oklahoma congressman’s office. Most are happy to receive constituents and some have times set aside to welcome visitors. For example, Lankford invites Oklahomans who are in D.C. to stop by his office for a constituent coffee, Java with James, each Wednesday morning.
3) Flag requests
Congressional offices can assist Oklahomans with purchasing an American flag. When ordering, you can request the flag to be flown over the Capitol on a specific date. Flags flown over the Capitol include a certificate that can be dedicated to a particular person, or for an event or organization.
4) Military academy nominations
Four of the five U.S. military academies require prospective students to provide a nomination. A member of Congress can provide a limited number of nominations each year. Constituents interested in attending a service academy should contact their representative or senator to learn about application requirements and deadlines.
Most members of Congress offer internships to Oklahoma students—both in their Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., offices. Information and online applications are available on their websites. In addition, Oklahoma’s U.S. senators can provide more information on the U.S. Senate Youth program, which offers two Oklahoma students an opportunity to participate in a weeklong experience in Washington, D.C., each summer.