Communicating With Congress: Correspondence

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Publication date: 
4 May 1995
Number: 
62

"...I strongly believe that the scientific community as a whole is
much too isolated from the federal decision-making process, and
much too complacent about its own role in our culture."
                                       -- Rep. George Brown (D-CA)
                           *******

During the next five months Congress is going to be looking for
$1,000,000,000,000 in savings over the next seven years.  An
important factor in these deliberations will be constituent input.
Members of Congress are very interested in the views of their
constituents, and respond to them whenever possible.  A large
portion of a Member's staff is dedicated to constituent
communications, which includes responding to correspondence,
telephone calls, and personal visits.

Yet, all too often Members of Congress report that they receive
little communication from the science community.  The old adage,
"the squeaky wheel gets the oil" still applies to many actions
which Congress has taken, and will take.  Congressional turnover in
the last two elections has brought many new members to the House of
Representatives (45%+.)  Both old and new members of the House and
Senate meet frequently with veterans, farmers, business leaders,
and other individuals in their district and states, and receive
letters from these interests daily.  Many of these constituents
make sure that their Members of Congress know their views on policy
and spending.  That is usually not true for scientists.  Most
members, especially those new to Congress, do not have a clear
understanding of who the scientists are in their district or state,
and the value of their research.

Informing a Member of Congress of your views is neither difficult
nor time consuming.  Below are some time-proven guidelines on
ensuring that your representative and senators know what you think
about the FY 1996 budget that is now taking shape, and where the
one trillion dollars in savings should come from over the next
seven years.

WRITING TO A MEMBER OF CONGRESS:

Constituent mail is, by far, the most popular way to inform
members.  Congressional offices receive, and send, thousands of
letters every year.  Many of these letters are not as effective as
they could be -- often a letter is difficult to read, covers too
many topics, displays a lack of understanding, or fails to include
a return address.  Here is what you can do to make sure that your
letter stands out:

Timing is important.  A letter which reaches your representative or
senators after a vote is held is useless.  A letter sent months
before an issue is considered is likely to be forgotten.  FYI
monitors legislation of interest to the physics and astronomy
community on an on-going basis, and provides notice of upcoming key
events and dates whenever possible.

Limit your letter to one page, and to one subject.  Too many letter
are overly long, and cover so many topics that they are delayed by
being routed to several staff aides for response.

Type your letter whenever possible, and make sure it contains a
legible name and address.

Organize your letter into three paragraphs:
    In the first paragraph, state your reason for writing and your
"credentials."
    In the second paragraph, state your position with supporting
evidence.  Include a relevant personal experience.  Refer to a bill
by its specific number (see FYI or contact us for information.)
Avoid emotionalism -- stick to the facts.  Offer an alternative
approach where appropriate.
     In your third, and concluding, paragraph, request (not demand)
a specific action, such as a vote for or against a bill.  Offer
your assistance.

Avoid e-mail.  Although much easier and quicker, congressional
offices which now have this capability report that their already
stretched staffs are being inundated by electronic mail (Speaker
Gingrich (R-GA) received 13,000 messages in the first six weeks of
this session.)  Not all offices have e-mail.  Faxes are also to be
avoided if possible, as members find that their machines are
frequently overloaded.

You do not need an individual office address to write to a member.
The preferred address for all representatives, and senators, is as
follows:

The Honorable ____________
United States Senate
Washington, D.C.  20510

Dear Senator ____________:

The Honorable ____________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.  20515

Dear Representative ____________:

Correspondence addressed to your Member of Congress will have
greater impact than mail sent to other members.  If an important
issue is coming before a committee, where legislation is actually
drafted, and if your own members are not on that committee,
consider the following course: write to the committee chairman, and
other key committee members if desired, but also write to your own
representative.  Ask that they convey your sentiments to the
chairman and other committee members.  This can be a very effective
way for your voice to be heard.

FYI #63 will provide guidance on meeting with a Member of Congress.

Explore FYI topics: