Fedblog FedblogFedblog
Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Dingell Letters and the History Books

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The towering Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who as of Friday is the longest-serving lawmaker in U.S. history (57 years) has for decades struck terror in the hearts of agency managers with his famed “Dingell letters.”

In an appearance at Atlantic Media Friday morning for “Atlantic Live,” the longtime chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee explained the secret to composing an effective letter as part of the congressional oversight process. “It takes an honest sense of social justice and outrage, along with the great English words who, how, why, and when, rather than starting a nasty argument,” Dingell told moderator Steve Clemons. “You can stop a lot more rapscallions in government with questions than by going out and breaking heads.”

Dingell, who has a long record of legislating for environmental protections while also backing a strong automobile industry, shared a few other secrets and observations:

  • The current Congress is “the most snarled-up Congress I’ve ever served in, but it’s still a privilege.”
  • The gridlock is the fault both of Congress and “the people who put up with it by sending us here not to compromise but to fight.”
  • The Tea Party is “smart as all get-out” because its plan to control Congress “is working,” but its newcomers “don’t understand how the system can and should work.”
  • As committee chairman, he always became good friends with the ranking Republican.
  • The only member of Congress of who he was ashamed of was Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wis.
  • The most important vote he ever took was for the 1964 Civil Rights bill, which “almost cost me my job.”
  • Passage of the updates to the Clean Air Act showed “government working as it should, and that compromise is honorable.”
  • Today’s Congress focuses too much on “events of today or tomorrow and not six months or 10 years ahead.”
  • The institutions of government “are more important than any single individual or issue.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.