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Jewish World Review March 21, 2001 / 26 Adar, 5761

Dale McFeatters

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Consumer Reports

Congress' growing nuisance -- SO how long did it take e-mail to go from being a marvelous new tool of instantaneous communication to a growing nuisance? For Congress, about six years.

A study by a foundation specializing in congressional management found that, from a handful of e-mails in 1995, members of Congress received 80 million e-mails last year and the rate is rising at 1 million a month.

The e-mail inundation has outstripped the ability of staffers and technicians to handle the flow, and, the study reported, many congressional offices reported that handling e-mail is their biggest management problem.

Much of the e-mail is computer-generated in what political operatives call "AstroTurf campaigns," that is, centrally directed lobbying disguised to look like a genuine grass-roots campaign. The intention is to make support for legislation look greater than it really is. Veteran members of Congress aren't fooled. Junk e-mail - spam - is like junk snail mail; it gets ignored after a while.

Inevitably, congressional offices will cope with the volume of e-mail and the time it takes to answer, currently around three weeks in most offices, by computerizing their responses. That means the communication will be between e-mail software programs, not constituents and lawmakers.

Not surprisingly, the most influential means of communication with members of Congress continues to be the thoughtful, individual - and brief - first-class letter. There's something about organizing paper, stamp and envelope and one's thoughts that the e-mail lacks.

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