Frequently Asked Questions about Committees
What is the role of committees in the legislative process?
What happens at a committee hearing?
Can I attend Senate hearings?
What is the difference between a Standing Committee, a Joint Committee, and a Special or Select Committee?
Where can I find information about a committee's jurisdiction?
What if an issue is in the jurisdiction of multiple committees?
How are senators assigned to committees?
Where can I find a list of senators who have served as committee chairs?
Where can I find a current subcommittee membership list?
What is the difference between caucuses and committees?
Where do I find the current committee hearing and meeting schedule?
How do I find witness testimonies from committee hearings?
How do I request copies of a hearing's webcast?
What is a committee report?
How do I find committee reports?
What is a conference committee?
How do I find conference reports?
Committees are essential to the effective operation of legislative bodies. Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction. Committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to the Senate.
For more information on the role of committees in the Senate, see the " Committees and Senate Rules " essay in the Committee System section of this website.
Hearings are a method by which committee members gather information. Business dealt with in hearings may be broadly classified into four types: legislative, oversight, investigative, and consideration of presidential nominations.
- The most familiar type of congressional hearing gathers information about the subject matter of one or more measures in anticipation that the committee will eventually mark up and report legislation.
- Congress has historically engaged in oversight of the executive branch—specifically the review, monitoring, and supervision of the implementation of legislation. Oversight hearings are one technique a committee can use in this evaluation.
- An investigative hearing is different than a legislative or oversight hearing in that investigations often involve an allegation of wrongdoing. More information is available in the About Investigations section of this website.
- Senate committees have the authority to hold hearings on presidential nominations to executive and judicial positions within its jurisdiction. The Constitution gives the Senate the power of " advice and consent " on presidential nominations .
Most committee hearings and markup sessions are generally open to the public. In rare cases, usually to discuss national security issues, a committee will meet behind closed doors. The Senate’s meeting and hearing schedule is available at https://www.senate.gov/committees/hearings_meetings.htm .
- Standing Committees are permanent committees established under the standing rules of the Senate and specialize in the consideration of particular subject areas. The Senate currently has 16 standing committees .
- Joint Committees include membership from both houses of Congress. Joint committees are usually established with narrow jurisdictions and normally lack authority to report legislation. The position of chair usually alternates each Congress between members from the House and Senate.
- Special or Select Committees were originally established by the Senate for a limited time period to perform a particular study or investigation. These committees might be given or denied authority to report legislation to the Senate.
Select and joint committees generally handle oversight or housekeeping responsibilities.
The different types of Senate committees are further explained in the Historical Overview essay in the Committee System section of this website.
A committee's jurisdiction can be found on its website . If the committee's jurisdiction is not listed on the site's homepage, then look under the subheadings "About the Committee" or "Committee Information."
Under Rule XVII most referral decisions are based on the “subject matter which predominates." Modern issues are complex, however, and it is not uncommon for measures to cross jurisdictional boundaries. Senate Rule XVII allows a measure to be referred to multiple committees for consideration. These measures can either be considered sequentially or simultaneously.
Each party assigns, by resolution, its own members to committees, and each committee distributes its members among subcommittees. The Senate places limits on the number and types of panels any one senator may serve on and chair. For more information on how senators are assigned to committees, read about committee assignments from the Senate Historical Office or Committee Assignment Process in the U.S. Senate: Democratic and Republican Party Procedures (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.
A list of chairpersons of Senate standing committees (1789 to Present) is available on Senate.gov.
A list of a committee's current subcommittee membership can be found on Senate.gov under the Committees Membership & Assignments section . Simply choose a committee from the drop down list and then click on a subcommittee's link, this will take you to the current membership roster for that subcommittee.
Subcommittee membership can also be found in the Congressional Directory .
For additional information read the research guide How to find subcommittee membership rosters.
A caucus is an informal organization of members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members. There are regional, political or ideological, ethnic, and economic-based caucuses.
Caucuses differ from committees because committees are subsidiary organizations, established for the purpose of considering legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or carrying out other assignments as instructed by the Senate.
In addition to individual committees' websites , the Senate website provides a list of upcoming meetings and hearings .
Shortly after a hearing takes place, most committees post witness testimony on their websites . These testimonies often do not include the question-and-answer portion of the hearing. However, committees do provide access to the webcast of the hearing which shows the hearing in its entirety. Hearings may also be published on GPO’s website .
For additional information see the research guide, How to find committee hearings .
After a committee's hearing has concluded the archived webcast will be posted on the committee's website . Contact the committee directly for information about requesting copies of a webcast.
Committee reports are documents produced by Senate committees that address investigations , committee business, and legislative or policy measures. There are different types of committee reports:
- Reports that accompany a legislative measure when reported to the full chamber
- Oversight or investigative findings
- Committee activity (published at the end of congress)
- Results from conference committee meetings
For more information about committee reporting, read the article on Congress.gov Committee Reports .
You can read the full text of recent committee and conference reports online from ( govinfo Committee Reports (GPO) or Congress.gov ) or find copies in a Federal Depository Library .
For additional information on locating reports see the research guide, How to find committee reports and conference reports .
A conference committee is a temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. Conference committees are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major or controversial legislation.
- " Conference and Conference Reports " (PDF) in Riddick's Senate Procedure
- Conference Committee and Related Procedures: An Introduction (CRS) (PDF)
- Instructing Senate Conferees (CRS) (PDF)
- Instructing House Conferees (CRS) (PDF)
- Conference Reports and Joint Explanatory Statements (CRS) (PDF)
You can read the full text of recent conference reports online on GPO's website or Congress.gov . Copies are also available in a Federal Depository Library . You also can read the full text of a conference report in the Congressional Record .
How to find committee reports and conference reports provides additional information on locating reports.
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Committees are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Temporary committees originated in the First Congress, 1789–1791, and over time became a permanent way for Members to organize their work.
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Committees are groups of Members appointed to investigate, debate , and report on legislation. While they are not mentioned in the Constitution , committees have become an important part of the legislative process since their introduction during the first Congress in 1789. Created to help Members organize their work, committees were temporary in those early Congresses. Over time, the amount of legislation considered by the U.S. House of Representatives increased and committees became a permanent way for Members to divide their work.
There are five different types of committees—standing committees, subcommittees, select committees, joint committees, and the Committee of the Whole.
The most common type of committee, standing committees consider bills and other legislation that is before the U.S. House of Representatives. When a bill is introduced on the House floor, it is assigned a bill number and sent to a standing committee by the Speaker of the House. There are currently 20 standing committees, each covering a different area of public policy. A complete list of committees is available on the Office of the Clerk website .
While in committee, a bill is reviewed, researched, and revised. Committee members may hold a committee hearing to receive testimony and view evidence to gather as much information as possible about the bill. Once the committee members are satisfied with the bill, they vote on whether or not to report it to the House floor for consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives.
Each Member, Delegate, and Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives serves on two standing committees. Committee assignments are given at the start of each new Congress. Members can request to serve on specific committees. Returning Members usually keep their committee assignments from the previous Congress because they have expertise and seniority.
A special “committee on committees” matches the Members’ requests with the available committee positions. These assignments are approved by the majority and minority parties before being brought before the full Chamber for approval. Once assigned to a committee, Members must develop expertise in the committee’s content area, vote on motions, prepare and vote on amendments, decide whether or not to report bills to the House floor, and write committee reports and studies.
Many committees, usually standing committees, have smaller subcommittees within them. The members of these subcommittees have expertise in a specific part of a committee’s area of public policy. Like standing committees, subcommittees hold hearings, conduct research, and revise bills. Subcommittees report bills back to the full committee rather than the House floor.
Select committees are temporary committees created with a timeline to complete a specific task, like investigating government activity. Rather than researching and reporting bills to the House floor, they research specific issues or oversee government agencies. These guidelines don’t apply to all select committees, however.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was established on July 14, 1977 to oversee the CIA, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, FBI, and Treasury—and it still exists today. Also unlike other select committees, it considers bills and reports them back to the House floor.
Joint committees include Members from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Joint committees debate and report on matters concerning the Congress rather than issues of public policy. Because they consider only matters affecting the Congress, such as organizing the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies, they do not consider legislation or report on legislation to either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.
Committee of the Whole
The Committee is a way to move legislation through to the House floor for a vote quickly. The Committee of the Whole is able to debate bills more efficiently than the full U.S. House of Representatives because it requires a smaller quorum—only 100 members versus the 218 required of the full House.
The U.S. House of Representatives resolves to the Committee of the Whole when the Speaker of the House passes a resolution setting the guidelines for considering the bill before it. The Committee of the Whole debates the bill, then rises and reports its activities to the U.S. House of Representatives, which then votes on the legislation.
- Office of the Clerk Committee Information