Most people know who House Minority Leader Congressman Kevin McCarthy is, but not everyone knows about the role of his congressional district office. McCarthy’s field representative Aaron Falk is trying to change that. Falk spoke at the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday to bring everyone up to speed on the services McCarthy’s district office provides and the best practices for requesting help.

Three types of offices

According to Falk, a typical congressional office actually has three different types of office. The first is the office that serves the district – such as McCarthy’s district office in Bakersfield. This is the office Falk works in. There is a similar office in Washington D.C., usually near the Capitol Building which typically houses the legislative staff, the member, the press team and staff leadership. This office handles legislation, big picture messaging, press visits and similar items. The third office is a political office which is completely separate from the other two and is in charge of things like campaigning and fundraising.

“If you are getting a phone call at home asking for money, that’s the political office. That’s not us,” he said as everyone laughed.

The first and most important role of a congressional office, he said, is constituent service.

“We meet with people from all walks of life all across the district to deal with problems that they are having with the federal government or questions about policies or laws or anything else that might be affecting their day to day business,” Falk said.

The second and most visible function of the office is congressional engagement. He gave his appearance at the Chamber Tuesday as an example of this, as well as participating in the Indian Wells Valley Economic Outlook Conference. He said the congressman spends probably 75 to 80 percent of his time in Washington D.C., “however you can’t govern and you can’t represent your constituents if you are not here.”

This is where the field representatives come in. “It’s our job to go to all of these things when it is appropriate to engage as representative for the congressman.” The representatives then report back. Reporting local priorities is important, Falk said, “because what’s good for the whole country may not be what’s good for Ridgecrest. That’s why it’s our job to come out here and be active in the community.”

He said all the information gained is communicated back to the staff in D.C., by way of twice-weekly calls which cover priorities in Washington D.C., as well as local concerns.

“When you guys bring us concerns, we are able to compile those and take the trends back and that will be what influences policy,” he said.

The office also does a limited amount of federal oversight.

Falk encouraged constituents to let the office know about problems with the federal government such as public use lands, because the office may be able to work out an outcome more favorable for the district and/or Ridgecrest.

Things the district office does not do include writing legislation.

“If you have a great idea for a bill, we want to hear it, but it should go to the legislative staff in Washington D.C,” Falk said.

The district office also does no political activity or fundraising.

Casework

The main service that is provided by the congressional district office is casework. He said McCarthy has personally done a lot of casework throughout his career and takes it seriously.

“So if you are having a problem with a federal agency and you need help, please call us,” Falk said. “We are not able to force an outcome,” but he said the office can help go to bat for people and help them to get a fair shake or at least an answer.

The district office also hosts mobile office hours. In Ridgecrest, this is held the second Tuesday of every month from 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., at the Ridgecrest city clerk’s office, on the second floor of City Hall. Falk said the office hours operate under strict confidentiality rules.

“Please don’t be afraid to bring us something,” he said.

Other services

The district office can also help make arrangements for tours in Washington D.C., including likely visits with McCarthy and possibly White House tours – as well as expediting tours of other locations.

The district office also sells flags that have been flown over the district capital, mostly in the $20 to $30 range. He said flags can also be flown over the capital on a certain day at a certain time to correspond with events.

The district office also offers federal grant support.

“We are not able to offer you grants. We are not able to help you find the grants. But if there is a grant that you are applying for . . . we want to help bring resources into the community that are going to help improve the quality of life.

“So, please reach out for us if you are going to be applying for a federal grant. It’s nice having the Republican leader in your backyard. His support can go a long way.”

The district office can also help obtain presidential greetings for births, anniversaries and marriages. Falk said he has one for his wedding. He joked that his name is misspelled but the certificate was issued under the Obama administration.

Falk said in many cases the office can assist with expediting passport requests.

The office can also help research information and resources.

“The federal government and our laws are confusing and they are opaque. And I’ve got to be honest, we don’t typically know the answer when you call for something. But we can find it out,” he said.

He added the office can help figure out how laws may be applied and who to contact for more information. The office can also help with networking.

“If you are opening a business and you want to get a VIP in town, let us know. We can introduce you to people from the executive branch,” he said.

“[Congressman] Kevin [McCarthy] loves stuff like that, any time we can bring somebody cool out here to help out the community,” Falk said, mentioning Vice President Mike Pence’s 2017 visit to the Mojave Air and Space Port as an example.

Services for students

The district offices offers services for students, including service academy nominations. Falk said McCarthy nominates one student for each academy each year.

The office also offers congressional internships. Falk said sometimes the office has to bring on interns who are not constituents because they did not get enough constituents to apply.

“Everywhere I go I bang the drum. If you have a college student and they want to get exposed to congress, please have them apply to our internship program.”

He said the internship program is valuable to anyone regardless of party preference.

McCarthy’s district office also participates in the annual congressional art competition for high school students, which has a number of categories. Winners get an expense-paid trip to D.C., and their artwork will be hung “in the hallway of our secret subway into the Capitol Building.”

Best practices for getting assistance

Falk also gave advice on best practices for contacting the office. He said between the Bakersfield and D.C. offices, they usually get at least 500 individual contacts a day “and if something is going on it’s well over 1,000.”

He said even with a couple of dedicated workers, sorting or “triaging” the contacts is a full-time job.

He recommended doing research prior to contacting. “If you are able to come in knowing what it is that you need, it will help us help you,” he explained.

He added that if the constituent doesn’t know where to turn, the district office may be able to point them in the right direction.

Falk also recommended being aware of the difference between state and federal issue – in other words, McCarthy’s office has no control over the high speed rail.

“Knowing who can help you and when is important,” Falk added.

Also critical is asking sooner rather than later.

“There will be times when you need something and its so close to the deadline that there is nothing we can do,” he said. “The U.S. Congress might be the slowest moving body in politics. The sooner you can come to us with something you need help on, the sooner we can get you moving – whether it’s pointing you in the right direction or being able to solve your problem.”

Falk said he personally is in Ridgecrest usually three or four times a month. He encourages people to contact him.

Falk is originally from Bakersfield and lives there now after living and working elsewhere, including D.C. He said his favorite part of his job is that he can see the impact in helping people from his hometown, using his knowledge of the area he grew up in.

“I feel like I can direct things, direct resources, direct Kevin’s attention straight to where it can do the most good,” Falk said.

Congressman McCarthy’s office can be contacted at www.kevinmccarthy.house.gov or 661-327-3611.