"If I signed and read every letter that goes out of this office, I wouldn't have time to anything else," says Sen. William Scott (R-Va.) "I used to go over all of it, but it's gotten impossible with all the mail I get."
Letters from the young man who wants to change his military discharge "honorable," the destitute widow who doesn't know how to register for veteran's benefits, and all those Virginians who are opposed to or in favor of gun control are among the 300 letters that flow into Scott's Washington office daily.
"I can't possibly see everything that goes out of here but I do approve all the responses," says Scott. "I have a qualified staff that handles all my mail and I get a report from my AA, Jack White, who tells me what's going on each day."
White coordinates Scott's mail operation, assigning each of the 14 staff members a different area of concentration. All the outgoing mail must meet with White's approval before leaving the office.
Unlike many of his Senate colleagues, Scott does not use an "auto-open" machine - an automatic signing device.All the mail is signed by either him, White or one other aide.
After the mail is sorted and given out, White says, they operate on a "day-in, day-out" policy. If the letter involves a case or a special project that can't be answered in a day, a reponse is immediately sent out to let the constituent know his letter was received.
"We try to work off a set list of who gets what issue or case, and we try to use a little common sense too," says White. "There's one girl who handles all the Justice and State Department correspondence because we feel the two are related."
In addition to six caseworkers and several legislative staff members who answer the mail, the senator has a little help from four automatic memory typewriters that print out standard responses to popular issues.
"If a lot of mail comes in on a new issue, I'll check with the senator to see what his stand will be," says White. "Once we have his policy we can develop a response for the machines.
"We do not mass reproduce. Everything that goes out of this office is Sen. Scott - it's how he feels."
Scott's automatic machines have set responses on everything from prayer in public schools to the natural gas shortage.Since Scott writes all his own newsletters, the staff uses them as a guide to how he stands on certain issues.
"We try to give all our caseworkers the oportunity to make their own judgments on how certain things should be answered," explained White. "I have the final say on everything so no one is tempted to cut corners, and any mistakes are caught."
According to White, all the mail gets answered unless it is from out-of-state, in which case he would refer it to the proper senate office.
"We get a lot of crank letters too, but we treat everything as if it were a straight request," explained White. "Some of them may be kooks but they're quite serious about their particular problem."
All incoming letters plus two copies of the response are kept on the file in Scott's office. The letters are filed by name and subject in case Scott wants quick access to a particular letter.
In addition to the full-time staff people, one part-time woman comes in Saturdays to get out the bulk mail.
"If we receive an annual amount of mail on a new issue, she can run all four automatic typewriters at once and get all caught up within a few hours," said White.
"But on the whole, one-fourth of our mail is done automatically. Most is answered personally."