By Peter Bearse, Candidate for Congress (NH CD-1)
Bill Duncan's NHInsider rebuttal to Paul Chevalier's praise of Jeb Bradley's service to veterans is fine and good as far as it goes. Rep. Shea-Porter did well to help the three disabled veterans whose cases Duncan cites. As a Member of Congress, who would not, with all the resources that a Congressional office can command?
Duncan then goes a step too far in lavishing praise. He quotes one of the veterans helped as saying: "When it comes to constituent services, she's on a whole different level." I do not doubt this statement was made by a veteran very grateful for the disability checks he began to receive. Yet, neither the veteran in question, nor Bill Duncan, nor even the Representative herself, is in a position to make such a sweeping claim.
For every veteran helped, I can find one who was not. There are also many who have been helped but the service they have received has been untimely, incomplete or otherwise unsatisfactory.
As a study of Congress by the Heritage Foundation recognized, constituent service turns Congress into a giant reelection machine, more so than Congressional voting records or legislative achievements. Yet, it is also an area that lacks accountability. It is easy for Members of Congress, with their large staffs and expense budgets, to provide constituent services. It is easy to highlight some cases where the services have made significant differences in the lives of people helped. So, Bill Duncan, perhaps helped by Rep. Shea-Porter's staff, found it easy to cherry-pick a few such cases. Yet, if the Representative of NH CD1, or any Representative, really wanted to provide accountability for the time and money devoted to constituent services, what would the accounts show? The fact is: We don't know, because Congress hides its operations from accountability. They are opaque, far from transparent. Pulling a few favorable cases from office files is like the self-advertising provided by Members' newsletters: It's electioneering, not accountability.
Those who have analyzed organizational performance know what it takes to provide true accountability. Records need to be kept that enable one to measure performance not only results but also time and money (taxpayers') inputs employed to get results. In addition, polls need to be taken or surveys of customers or clients (here, constituents) administered to learn many things that Rep. Shea-Porter's office is either unwilling or unable to report: How many veterans were served? What types of services were provided? Who provided them? The Member or her staff? How did they feel about the quality and timeliness of services received? Voters should be challenging incumbents to provide such data and information. Citation of a few favorable cases does not make a case for overall favorable performance by a Representative, any more than a few big sales make a successful salesman. There are also questions of credits and trade-offs. Should Rep. Shea-Porter take credit for services rendered if they were provided by her staff? One of the vices of conventional politicians, after all, is taking credit for the work of others. What other requests for services had to be paid less attention in order to generate the good results generated for a few?
The latter reflects a tough trade-off. Besides ignoring or ill-serving some veterans needing service, what others were ignored or ill-served? In my travels throughout the district, I discovered two homeless people, another facing foreclosure and a fourth in danger of losing her son to the Division of Child and Family Services (DCYF). Given the demands of a campaign; thus far, I have been able to help only one of these, the DCYF case. She had repeatedly appealed for help to Rep. Shea-Porter. She received nothing in response, not even an acknowledgment. Thus, no one can claim that our current Representative provides a "whole different level of service." She doesn't provide enough reporting back to voters to enable them to judge the truth of the claim.
By contrast, Independent Candidate Peter Bearse would provide a higher level of service and help to create a community of caring in the First District (NH CD 1). How? By:
* Funding the establishment of two additional Congressional District offices out of his Congressional salary. These would provide active outreach to constituents, not just wait for people in need of help to walk in the door. Many would not, but many people need far more help than they are getting in these tough times in a big district (80 towns).
* Providing full accountability and reporting of time and money spent on constituent services, plus independent assessments of the results of services provided.
* Using both Congressional staff and a network of volunteers to leverage and supplement Congressional office resources.
Perhaps then, two years from now, we can both talk about and see a "higher level" of services and a "community of caring."
NOTE: Peter is an International Consulting Economist (Ph.D.), Expert on accountability co-author of Services: The New Economy, and Independent Candidate for Congress, NH CD 1.