The letter to the Health and Human Services Department was written on Senate Appropriations Committee stationery, but the signature has been obliterated by white correction fluid.

The name on that letter and others commenting on HHS's new teen birth-control rules have been removed to protect the innocent, says HHS, whose staff has taken on the mammoth job of hiding the names on thousands of the 60,000 letters it has received.

The HHS proposal would require that federally funded clinics notify parents within 10 days if their child receives a birth-control prescription--which critics claim would violate the privacy of teen-agers.

The regulations were proposed in February, but a final decision is not expected for several months.

"If you look at some of these letters, you'd see that some people relate very personal experiences," said HHS spokesman Russell Mack. He said the department is not certain these people knew their comments would be available for public review.

So on correspondence from individuals, he said, the names are covered before copies of the letters are placed in the public files. In most cases, those from organizations and federal agencies are not. HHS saves the originals.

Mack said HHS attorneys have determined that the practice is legal, although the procedure has raised questions. A federal attorney who specializes in the regulatory process said that while the procedure appeared to be legal, "I can think of no other case involving this."