We have a deal! Finally, after 16 days, the federal government shutdown is over and things can get back to normal: Americans can once again visit all our National Parks, government workers can be assured of receiving paychecks, etc. However, it will likely take some time for everything to get back to normal, including lawmakers’ offices dealing with constituent communications.
Were you one of the millions of Americans who registered your thoughts on the shutdown with your Representative and/or Senators in the past 2-3 weeks? Or perhaps you actually cared more about a different issue? Honestly, don’t look for a response any time soon. Many lawmakers’ offices have been reduced to just a few senior aides over the past 16 days, and email inboxes and voicemail boxes are still overflowing. Just a few things to keep in mind regarding communicating with your elected officials in Washington, DC:
- Congressional offices can barely keep up with the average level of in-bound constituent communications when they are fully staffed (Congressional Management Foundation). The backlog most offices are currently experiencing means that you likely will not see a response to your message soon, if ever. This is less than ideal, but nonetheless is the situation we are in now. Call it an unavoidable consequence of the shutdown.
- As always, your message is most likely to be read, and you are more likely to get a quality response, if you write in your own words, instead of copying a form letter someone else has written for you.
- If you already know a staffer in a Congressional office, perhaps by meeting with them either in Washington or in a district office or event, email that person directly on an issue, rather than sending your message to the lawmaker’s general inbox through an online system (such as ASCE’s Click & Connect with Congress).
Communication between citizens and their elected officials remains the bedrock of our system of government. Many polls indicate citizens are more dissatisfied than ever with their representatives, and if you are one of these folks you may be wondering, “Why bother?” Engaging with your elected officials may not fix things overnight, but our situation certainly will not improve without continued communication and involvement from informed citizens.