White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Issues Report to the President
Today, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and White House Counsel Stuart Delery jointly issued the 2022 White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (Roundtable) Report. The report, entitled “Access to Justice through Simplification: A Roadmap for People-Centered Simplification of Federal Government Forms, Processes, and Language,” highlights agency accomplishments and commitments in furtherance of the Roundtable’s mission to “increase the availability of meaningful access to justice for individuals and families, regardless of wealth or status.”
“Government forms and processes must be accessible to everyone — not just lawyers or those who can afford them,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The Roundtable’s 2022 Report provides a roadmap to help agencies reduce barriers and expand access to federal government programs and services.”
The report focuses on ways the federal government can simplify its forms and processes to reduce the need for individuals to seek legal assistance. In 2022, the Roundtable focused on expanding access to programs, services, and benefits by developing a simplification roadmap and highlighting member agencies’ best practices. The Roundtable’s 2022 report identifies a three-step path forward to: (1) understand the barriers to access through meaningful engagement with communities served and impacted by government programs, (2) implement strategies through incorporating feedback from engagement, and (3) evaluate the impact of the simplification efforts to determine whether they have meaningfully expanded access, or if further improvements are possible. The report also features successful form and process simplification efforts by member agencies and promotes commitments for government-wide access improvements through human-centered design and community engagement.
“Through this work, we are prioritizing people-centered approaches to simplify forms, processes and language,” said Director Rachel Rossi of the Office for Access to Justice. “It is critical to place the communities we serve at the center of our efforts to pursue access to justice for all.”
In December 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy White House Counsel Stacey Grigsby co-chaired a convening of the Roundtable with remarks and participation by Second Gentleman of the United States Douglas Emhoff and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and moderated by Director of the Office for Access to Justice, Rachel Rossi. The Roundtable agency principals and high-level officials in attendance included Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis Richard McDonough, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary John Tien, Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, Administrative Conference of the United States Chair Andrew Fois, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra, Department of Education Under Secretary James Kvaal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Charlotte Burrows, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, Deputy Assistant to the President Chiraag Bains, Department of Defense General Counsel Caroline Krass, Department of Labor Solicitor Seema Nanda, Legal Services Corporation President Ronald Flagg, Digital Service Administrator Mina Hsiang, Office of the Vice President Deputy Counsel Nasrina Bargzie, Environmental Protection Agency General Counsel Jeffrey Prieto, Department of Interior Principal Deputy Solicitor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Associate Administrator Sabeel Rahman, Department of Agriculture Chief Customer Experience Officer Simchah Suveyke Bogin, Agency for International Development Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Karl Fickenscher, and National Science Foundation Deputy Division Director Alan Tomkins. Additional officials attended from the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Transportation.
The Roundtable discussed the importance of engaging with communities, including legal service providers and historically underserved and marginalized communities, to understand barriers faced in accessing government resources. The Roundtable highlighted the importance of incorporating information learned through that engagement to adopt effective strategies to simplify federal government forms, processes and language. The Roundtable also reflected on the work of legal service providers to assist the public with access to federal government benefits and programs, and how simplification of forms and process can alleviate the burden on legal services organizations.
During the meeting, Attorney General Garland also named Allie Yang-Green as the Executive Director of the Roundtable, a position within the Office for Access to Justice. Ms. Yang-Green has had a distinguished career committed to access to justice, and she was previously an attorney with the Department’s Office for Access to Justice. Ms. Yang-Green will, as directed by the Co-Chairs, convene regular meetings of the Roundtable and supervise its work. The Department’s Office for Access to Justice will continue to staff the Roundtable, and to work in partnership with Roundtable member agencies to drive development of new approaches and best practices that provide meaningful access to justice.
In 2021, Attorney General Garland announced the restoration of a standalone Office for Access to Justice within the Justice Department dedicated to improving the federal government’s understanding of and capacity to address the most urgent legal needs of communities across America. In addition, in his capacity as co-chair of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, Attorney General Garland, together with White House Counsel Dana Remus, also released the Roundtable’s 2021 report, “Access to Justice in the Age of COVID-19.” The 2021 Roundtable focused on barriers to access to justice that were exposed and exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and identified the innovative strategies adopted by Roundtable members in response.