The legislative branch of our Federal government has intense interest in the work conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Like the public, Members of Congress and their staff frequently direct letters, emails, and phone calls to the Department that require timely and responsive reply.
Responding to Congressional Inquiries: Workflow Practices
The topic areas of interest to Congressional Members are very broad in range as is the nature of the requested action. For example, some requests may be on behalf of a Member’s constituent who is looking for certain types of information or assistance with an issue. In other cases, Members request formal reports, technical documents, budget information, and answers to key questions regarding a particular issue.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL) coordinates Congressional requests across the Department. Members submitting requests may come directly to ASL or to agency legislative affairs offices. ASL performs many additional functions, including developing responses to requests on behalf of the Secretary and staff offices within the Office of the Secretary. ASL also coordinates testimony, clearance of proposed legislation and responses to inquiries about them.
With regard to formal incoming requests, to coordinate the response to a request from a Member, ASL assigns a lead office/agency and an ASL staff member to coordinate development of the response and clearance of the transmittal to the Member’s office. For these situations, the assignment often requires a “delivery date” for formulating the draft response. In other cases, Members or their staff may make informal inquiries to ASL that may be handled less formally through phone conversations or email.
Proactively, ASL may also contact Members’ offices for those who are very interested in particular topics to inform them of upcoming events, reports, or activities that may be of interest. Throughout the process, ASL and other legislative offices maintain working knowledge of legislative activities of relevance to health and human service activities. ASL and HHS agency legislative offices track pending issues closely on proposed legislation, arrange for responses to requests, support expert testimony, and coordination of clearance for specific issues across the government.
The office consists of six divisions:
Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation: Serves as principal advisor to the Secretary with respect to all aspects of the Department's legislative agenda and Congressional liaison activities.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Discretionary Health Programs: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for discretionary health programs. This portfolio includes health-science-oriented operating divisions of the department including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Surgeon General, among others.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Mandatory Health Programs: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Indian Health Service.
Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Services: Works on the legislative agenda and serves as the lead liaison for the departments’ human services and aging program divisions.
Congressional Liaison Office: Serves as the lead liaison to Members of Congress by notifying them of departmental activities and initiatives, maintaining the Department's grant notification system and coordinating agency response to congressional inquiries.
Office of Oversight and Investigations: Responsible for all matters related to Congressional oversight and investigations, including those performed by the Government Accountability Office.
The organizational structure chart and staff list for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/divisions/divisions.html#clo
The ASL Congressional Liaison Office (CLO) responds to congressional inquiries about grant awards; notifies congressional offices of grant awards made by the Department; and facilitates technical assistance regarding grants to Members of Congress and their staff.
ASL grant information can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/asl/Grants/grants.html
A complete listing of testimony by the Secretary and other Department officials before the United States Congress. View testimony from HHS.