'Dear Colleague' Letters in the House of Representatives: Past Practices and Issues for Congress [February 22, 2017] [open pdf - 763KB]
"The practice of one Member, committee, or office broadly corresponding to other Members, committee, or officers dates back to at least the 1800s. At least as early as 1913, this correspondence was labeled as 'Dear Colleague' letters. Since 2003, it has been possible to track the volume of House 'Dear Colleague' letters sent through an email-based distribution system (from 2003 to 2008) and a web-based distribution system (since 2008). The creation of the web-based e-'Dear Colleague' distribution system in 2008 has made it possible to systematically examine 'Dear Colleague' letters, thereby offering a clearer understanding of what are largely, but not exclusively, intra-chamber communications. Named for their opening salutation, 'Dear Colleague' letters are official correspondence widely distributed to congressional offices. Members, committees, and officers of the House of Representatives often use 'Dear Colleague' letters to encourage others to cosponsor, support, or oppose legislation. Additionally, senders use these letters to collect signatures, invite members to events, update congressional offices on administrative rules, and provide general information. In analyzing data on the volume of 'Dear Colleague' letters sent between January 2003 and December 2014 in the House of Representatives, several discernable trends can be observed. […] [S]everal possible administrative and operational questions are raised in this report to aid the House in future discussion of the electronic 'Dear Colleague' system. These include questions on handling the growth in volume of 'Dear Colleague' letters sent per year, and the potential to create additional mechanisms within the e-'Dear Colleague' system to aid subscribers in managing the 'Dear Colleague' letters they receive."
CRS Report for Congress, R44768
Federation of American Scientists: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/index.html