“Dear” Slayers

Posted June 20, 2007 at 6:47pm

Plenty of House staffers are finding those “Dear Colleague” letters zipping around Capitol Hill a little less than endearing. The seemingly friendly and genteel-sounding system of calling on one’s fellow Members is instead inspiring griping among their staffs. [IMGCAP(1)]

The volume of e-mailed letters seeking co-sponsors for various bills and amendments has reached such a flood that many staffers have taken to setting up their e-mail inboxes to simply screen them out. But some crafty senders of “Dear Colleague” missives have figured out a way around the roadblock: Much like sneaky spammers who add an extra letter or two to naughty words to ensure they don’t get trapped in systems that filter out X-rated messages, they intentionally misspell the word “Colleague.”

That ensures the letters end up in e-mail in-boxes, but it also has some overwhelmed staffers seriously annoyed.

Staffers estimate they get hundreds of “Dear Colleagues” (known as “DCs” in staffer lingo) every week. Last week alone, one Democratic staffer reports to HOH that he got 427. The flood has prompted some to set up special e-mail folders to which the letters are automatically sent or to have them sent directly to the virtual trash can.

But the craftiness of Hill staffers bent on spreading word of their bosses’ legislative genius is not to be underestimated. They’ve resorted to spellings like “Coleague” (on a letter from Puerto Rican Republican Luis Fortuño), “Collegue” (Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Robert Brady) and “Colleage” (Illinois Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert and Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich) to sneak them by the e-mail hall monitors.

Copy editors and spelling teachers everywhere are no doubt swooning and fanning themselves with pages of Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

The practice appears commonplace, staffers tell HOH, along with other inbox-infiltrating tricks like putting the senders in the “bcc” field. “I mean, these are college-educated people, so you have to figure that it’s on purpose, and it’s so annoying,” one staffer groused to HOH.

The snarking spilled over to TheCapitolist.com, where anonymous Hill staffers swap tales of the minutiae of life on the campus. “The people who send out Dear colleagues bcc, so as to bypass my intricately designed folder system, also chap my ass in a major way,” one poster complained.

The spamming appears to be but an example of general irritation with the whole “Dear Colleague” process, which is overwhelming to offices already drowning in paperwork. “A few [Dear Colleagues] are substantively informative, a few humorous, but the vast majority are inane, rendering the system annoying and largely ineffective,” another staffer snitches to HOH.

Maybe they should change their name from “Dear” to “Barely Tolerated.”

Hair Club for Nebraskans. A presentation of charts illustrating federal revenue and spending — over breakfast — sounds like a scintillating way to start one’s day. While poring over such details during the regular Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Nebraska Congressional delegation, the group’s prankster decided to inject a little fun into the chart-heavy proceedings, simultaneously (and good-naturedly) dinging two of his junior colleagues.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) poked fun at Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) and his fondness for dense charts by crunching a few numbers of his own during the weekly constituent breakfast. According to staffers present, Fortenberry had just wrapped up a mini-lecture on federal spending (the group of 4-H students from Cherry County, Neb., were no doubt already riveted), when Nelson announced he had another chart to show the crowd.

He then displayed his graphic, which depicted the “Follicle Distribution of the Nebraska Delegation.” According to the illustration, Nelson has the biggest share of anyone in the five-man group, 30 percent, followed closely by the thick-tressed Fortenberry, at 25 percent, and the not-too-threadbare Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and Rep. Lee Terry (R) — who each represent 20 percent of the follicle count.

Poor freshman Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, though, accounted for only a paltry 5 percent of the delegation’s combined locks.

“Like Fortenberry’s charts, mine shows that there are deficits in some areas and surpluses in some areas,” Nelson informed the giggling crowd. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out where the deficits and surpluses are.” He then introduced Smith, saying he would have the chance to “explain his share of the follicle wealth.”

Smith told the breakfast group he wasn’t sure what the study was based on, to which Fortenberry shouted, “Self-evident!” Smith then bemoaned having colleagues in “the hair club” — referring to the lush-locked trio of Terry, Nelson and Fortenberry.

When Nelson later got up to close the breakfast, he said he thought the group had been pretty nice to Smith, considering he’s the newcomer to the delegation, but that morning was Smith’s “baptism.”

Pen Pals. Steven Griles may be facing jail time for his role in helping disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but at least he’s got a few friends speaking up on his behalf. Among the letters submitted to the judge overseeing the former Interior Department official’s case seeking a lenient sentencing are votes of confidence from Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.); former Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), who’s now governor of the Gem State; Griles’ old boss, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton; and aspiring Sen. Tom Sansonetti (R), the ex-Justice Department attorney seeking the seat of the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), according to court documents.

Sansonetti tells of a decades-long friendship that began when the two men served in the Reagan administration. He says it was he who introduced Griles and Norton when he was the head of the Bush-Cheney transition team. Cubin calls him “a good friend and a trusted resource” and asks for a community service sentence for Griles. Norton, too, has kind words for her former deputy. “The reality of Steven Griles is in many ways different from the public perception,” she said in the letter, praising their working relationship. “Many men would have had difficulty working with a woman as a superior, particularly someone he had once outranked.”

Aww.

Since they clearly like writing letters, maybe the Griles-backers will be his pen pals if he does end up inside.

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