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Breaking bureaucra

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:07 a.m. CDT

During the recent two-week break in the congressional calendar, I continued my 2014 road trip across Iowa in April, visiting with Iowans in schools and on-the-job in their hometown communities.  For the last 34 years, I have held meetings with Iowans in every county, every year.  

Keeping in touch with constituents is a fundamental part of my job representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate.  Getting an earful from “we the people” helps me identify ways government can do a better job serving the people.  I want Iowans to bend my ear, so that I can be their voice in Washington.

At many of the meetings, I fielded questions about Washington gridlock. Public cynicism deepens when it appears the wheels of democracy grind to a halt.  It’s discouraging when partisanship overthrows longstanding Senate rules that protect the voice of dissent or when scoring political points blocks meaningful efforts to overhaul the tax code, address Social Security and Medicare solvency or rein in the national debt.  People are fed up with politicians kicking the can down the road just to make it through the next election.  The White House decision to put the skids on approving the Keystone XL pipeline until sometime after the November mid-term elections is one example.

But extraordinary gridlock that can put to a grinding halt the everyday lives of ordinary Iowans lands squarely at the feet of the bloated federal bureaucracy.  Big Government has grown too big for its britches when the convoluted chain of command makes it nearly impossible to hold anyone accountable.  Widespread inertia pervading the federal government is indefensible. Just ask a retiree, disabled worker, farmer, veteran, or taxpayer to grade their experience when a personal matter made its way through an impersonal bureaucratic jungle.

My Senate office can help Iowans navigate the daunting process of contacting federal agencies and help them obtain accurate information and assistance.  My staff provides Iowans a “live person” to listen to their questions and concerns and do their best to assist them. 

Every year my office opens confidential inquiries on behalf of constituents, including the IRS, Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. State Department.

In fact, staffers in my six offices in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City and Waterloo are on the job to help constituents who are butting heads with the bureaucracy.

It’s little wonder Iowans find it difficult to navigate the federal government.  The government hierarchy has layers between the layers, making it difficult to pin down accountability and root out mismanagement and inefficiency.  Thousands of federal agencies and bureaucracies administer grants, contracts, programs and benefits to hundreds of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, the inertia within the federal bureaucracy is the rule, rather than an exception.

Constituent services specialists on my staff serve as intermediaries for constituents.  With decades of collective experience under their belts, they are relentless problem solvers who know how to put the bureaucratic riddle through a sieve, sifting through the hierarchical system until they get an answer.

It’s gratifying to help a military veteran obtain long overdue war medals or to expedite passports for Iowans facing tight deadlines for overseas travel.  Sometimes, casework comes with urgent emotional and financial factors that involve matters of life and death.

International adoptions may run into complications that require diplomacy to secure permanent, loving homes for children and families stuck in bureaucratic limbo.  My office currently is working with the U.S. State Department on behalf of several adoptive Iowa families who now face grave uncertainty.  The Congolese government suddenly suspended exit permits needed to finalize pending adoptions. It has created heartbreak and turmoil for these families.

Consider the story of an Iowa woman who has been given six months to live.  Although she earns a paycheck as a court-appointed mental health advocate, she faced the possibility of losing her home when her disability benefits were trimmed.  Workers at the Social Security Administration had provided conflicting answers about her ability to continue earning a paycheck and retaining eligibility for disability payments that helped her make ends meet.

Her story was first published in the press.  With the constituent’s permission, my office instigated an inquiry with the regional Social Security office in Kansas City.  By any measure of logic, this terminally ill woman deserves a fast resolution.

As too many Iowans waiting for answers have discovered, the federal bureaucracy is not known for its speed or agility.  So many people often are at their wits’ end, trying to get answers from a thicket of bureaus, agencies, offices and departments that employ hundreds of thousands of employees who may give conflicting answers. 

It shouldn’t take media coverage or letters from a U.S. Senator to get a timely answer.  My office can’t guarantee an outcome; but it will work tirelessly to get an answer.

Whether conducting relentless oversight work or conscientious casework, I can guarantee the federal bureaucracy will continue to be challenged as long as I’m representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate.

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