Dear Mr. Congressman

Bill Neinast

“Dear Mr. Congressman.”  Some people think those three simple words will solve any problem they have with the federal government.

Unless the writer of those words is a substantial contributor to the Congressman’s election campaign coffers, letters with that salutation have only one positive effect.

The letters provide employment with good benefits to a large number of employees in the Congressman’s Washington and district offices. 

An ordinary writer of one of those letters can generally expect one of two types of response.

If the constituent’s letter concerns pending legislation, he will get response 1-A5 or some such.  It will read something like this:

         Dear Voter,

         Thank you for your interest in House Bill 666 concerning

         the prompt removal of dead animals from national forests. I

         will certainly keep your views in mind when I vote on

         the bill.

The Congressman’s signature will probably be added by a machine.

If the letter is a robo letter sent out at the request of AARP or some other organization, the letter will get a 1-A5 response.  The letter, however, may be added to the tally of the pros and cons on the legislation.

Letters concerning problems with federal agencies get a different set of responses.

The first is response 7-D1.  It will read, “Thank you for your letter concerning your problem with the IRS.  I am inquiring into this matter and will be back in touch with you shortly.”

Then letter 7-D2 is sent to the IRS.  It will contain a copy of the constituent’s letter and request information on which to base a reply.

When the Congressman gets a response from the IRS, his aides will mail letter 7-D3 to the constituent.  It will read something like, “I have looked into your problem with the IRS, and here is what I found.”  Then the response from the IRS will be copied verbatim into the Congressman’s letter.

While on active duty, I drafted a number of Army responses to such Congressional requests for information.  This was before the Privacy Act, so a lot of personal information that the soldier hoped would not come to light could be included in the reply.

One letter that did not follow the normal procedure involved a colorful Lieutenant Bell of the 2d Armored Division at Fort Hood.

Bell first came to the attention of his battalion commander when he was observed in public with a known prostitute, one Dimples LaRue.

Bell was counseled by his commander that such conduct is inappropriate for officers and that it should not happen again.  He assured his commander that there would not be a recurrence.

A short while later, however, he was again observed in the company of Dimples.  He was called back to the CO’s office and had the riot act read to him for running around with Dimples.  His response was a very apologetic, “Oh, is Dimples a prostitute?  I did not know that.”

Then we discovered that Bell was papering the area with hot checks.  We took the 20 easiest to prove bad check cases out of more than 40 and referred them for trial in a general court-martial.  A conviction could result in a dismissal (equivalent of a dishonorable discharge for an enlisted man), confinement, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.

Bell had almost completed his obligated active duty service when the charges were filed, so he was held beyond his release date.  He knew, however, that his Congressman could fix that.  So he wrote one of those “Dear Mr. Congressman” letters to the late Senator Spessard Holland of Florida.

He claimed his being held beyond his release date was denying him a contract to play professional football.

In this case, Senator Holland wrote directly to the Division Commander, Major General Leonard Shea, asking if he might be able to help this poor lieutenant.

I prepared the response for General Shea that included a complete resume  of the lieutenant’s service and misdeeds.  Senator Holland’s response is a classic.  It reads in full:

            Dear General Shea:

            I appreciate your letter of August 9 concerning First

            Lieutenant Charles Bell.  This officer grossly misrepresented the

            facts to me and I regret that I intervened in this matter.

            With cordial regards, I am Yours faithfully--

            Spessard L. Holland.

At last report, Bell was back in Killeen running a house of prostitution out of a manufactured home with Dimples LaRue as his madam.

Another letter to “Dear Mr. Congressman” that did not follow the usual automatic response also involved a soldier at Fort Hood.  His complaint to his Congressman was simply forwarded to the soldier’s company commander with a hand written note from the Congressman.  It read simply, “I was in your shoes as a company commander several years ago.  I am confident you can adequately handle this matter.”

So here’s the perspective:

If you write “Dear Mr. Congressman,” be sure you tell the whole truth.

Even if you tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, do not expect any miracles to follow.


HOME page>                  NEW STUFF page> 
          WRITING CONTENT page>       GUEST ARTISTS page>Home_1.htmlNew_Stuff.htmlEssays.htmlGuest_Artists.htmlshapeimage_1_link_0shapeimage_1_link_1shapeimage_1_link_2shapeimage_1_link_3