‘Dear Colleague’ System to Allow Customization

Posted June 23, 2008 at 6:35pm

House Members and staffers will soon be able to pick and choose which “Dear Colleague” letters arrive in their e-mail inboxes, saving them from the current deluge of letters sent every day, the House Administration Committee announced Monday.

Right now, a subscriber to the online system gets each and every letter, sent by Members to give information to their colleagues or drum up support for a cause. Their subjects vary widely: In the past few months, letters have criticized carbon offsets, addressed concerns over preferential mortgages for Members and even told Members how they are expected to act around Congressional pages.

More than 70 e-mails arrive each day, forcing staffers to wade through an overwhelming sea of correspondence for the ones that interest them.

But after the August recess, they will be able to customize their accounts by selecting which letters they receive based on issue and party affiliation. And on the Web they will be able to search by session date, issue, keyword or bill number.

Hopefully, the change will encourage more staffers to subscribe to the e-mail alert system, committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said. He estimated the current number of subscribers at about 1,000.

“Many individuals opt out of the current distribution list because of the sheer volume of information, some of which is not relevant to specific individuals,” he wrote in an e-mail.

When selecting which letters to get, Members and staffers will be able to choose from 32 subject lines, Anderson said. Those subjects were chosen based on research by the Congressional Research Service and input from staffers.

Training on the new system begins this week and will be held throughout July. The system will be hosted and maintained in-house, Anderson said.