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Obama’s Mailroom

I was previously unaware that Obama personally read letters that were sent to him every single day.

At the beginning of his first term, President Obama said he wanted to read his mail. He said he would like to see 10 letters a day. After that, the 10LADs, as they came to be called, were put in a purple folder and added to the back of the briefing book he took with him to the residence on the second floor of the White House each night.

These letters helped provide him with the perspectives of every day citizens—a perspective he could no longer as President of the United States.

The process a letter went through to be one of the 10 that personally landed in front of him was pretty rigorous.

All in all, the Office of Presidential Correspondence — “O.P.C.” was what everyone called it — required the orchestration of 50 staff members, 36 interns and a rotating roster of 300 volunteers to keep up with about 10,000 letters and messages every day.

Anyone could nominate a letter or email for inclusion in the day’s 10LADs. They called it “sampling.” To sample a letter in the hard-mail room, you just wrote “sample” (in pencil) on the top left corner of a letter, and then you walked it over and dropped it in the wooden inbox with a sticker on it that said “Samples.” About 2 percent of the total incoming mail ended up there. […]

Besides deciding whether to set a letter aside for the president to read, you had to code it. Every letter. Code it with a “disposition,” on the top left corner (again, in pencil). Gun violence; health care; drone strikes; domestic violence; Ukraine; taxes. Put your initials under the code. Code a stack, then stand up to stretch your neck and your legs and take your stack over to “the wall,” a tan shelving unit stuffed with paper, labeled shelf after shelf with corresponding dispositions. Gitmo; mortgage crisis; immigration; bees. (Bees?) The codes corresponded to more than 100 different form-response letters from the president that the O.P.C. writing team, a group of nine, worked to constantly update.

Go read the whole thing over at the New York Times. It’s fascinating.

Have any questions or comments about this post? Email me at chris@gomakethings.com or contact me on Twitter at @ChrisFerdinandi.

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