If a person has a dispute involving a federal agency, he/she may consider asking their federal congressman or congresswoman from their local congressional district (Senator or Representative) to make an inquiry with the federal agency into the status of the matter in dispute. John Zodrow worked extensively for and against federal agencies during his former career as an employment lawyer and has compiled this information to be helpful. Mr. Zodrow authored a book on public sector labor relations as well.
Here are some tips:
1. These types of inquiries work best when the matter is simple stalled in the bureaucracy. For example, when a federal employer will not process a worker’s compensation claim, the claimant may seeks to have his/her Senator or representative inquire into the matter. This process of seeking a Congressional update on the status of the matter likely will result in the paperwork being processed. Sometimes, this is exactly the “push” a federal agency needs to move things along. It’s oftentimes easier for the agency to process the paperwork rather than to explain to a member of Congress why the paperwork has not been processed.
2. Be realistic. If there is a lot of controversy regarding a matter or claim, the Confessional Inquiry probably won’t resolve it. The simpler the matter is – and the more you can show that the agency is not acting within its rights – the more likely this process will be effective for you.
3. This process can be used for any dispute between a person (and especially a federal employee) and a federal government department. For example, a Confessional Inquiry might help if your bankruptcy claim is lost, if your social security or disability application is not being processed, if your property is not being returned by the government, etc.
4. If you are a government employee, ask your union for help in writing your Confessional Inquiry request. If you are in the military and have a dispute with the Veteran’s Administration, consider contacting the Disabled American Veterans for assistance. Remember that this is not part of their ordinary duties and it is not covered by your dues. Offer to buy lunch or do a favor in return for any person who helps you out.
5. A great advantage of requesting a Confessional Inquiry is that the government agency has a specific time-frame where they must reply back. It is just a matter of days.
6. You can email or fax to your congressman with all of the background information, but remember to include details like “who, what, when, where, why and how” and to attach all essential documents and regulations.
7. Confirm your congressperson’s name/address/district to be sure that you live within their district and that you are sending your request to the correct address.
8. Online you can go to Congressional Offices and input your state and zip code, and the page will forward you to the correct congress-member for your district. Some have a form to fill out either online or by traditional mail, and some can be contacted via email. Most of the district websites will have a link for “constituent services” or “casework” which you can click on for specific contact information.
9. It’s better if you can visit the office in person, present your letter requesting a Congressional Inquiry and discuss the issue. That way, any missing information can be identified immediately. Also, you have at least caught the attention of one person, even if it is only a low-level aide or staff member.
10. Keep in mind that some politicians work faster than others and you may need to follow-up in a very polite and courteous way. Follow-up in about two weeks, or more depending on the type of inquiry being made, if you haven’t heard anything. Again, try to go in person.
11. If the Confessional Inquiry was helpful, send a Thank You note to your member of Congress who intervened. Tell your neighbors and co-workers of their role, and get out the vote next election. You never know when you need help on another issue.
12. Here’s the most underestimated point in the process. Remember to always VOTE in every election. As soon as your Inquiry request arrives at the office of a Congress-person, a Congressional Aide will check a computer to see how often you vote. Of course, these databases cannot reveal who you voted for, but they show your history of voting or not. If you don’t have a history of voting, why should your Congressman or Congresswoman be concerned about your Inquiry request?