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Committee Types and Roles

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Order Code 98-241 GOV Updated February 14, 2002April 1, 2003 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Committee Types and Roles Thomas P. Carr Analyst in American National Government Government and Finance Division Structure of the Committee System Congress divides its legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks among approximately 200 committees and subcommittees. Within assigned areas, these functional subunits gather information; compare and evaluate legislative alternatives; identify policy problems and propose solutions; select, determine, and report measures for for full chamber consideration; monitor executive branch performance (oversight); and investigate allegations of wrongdoing. For more information on legislative process, see [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml ]. The 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act (60 Stat. 812) sets the framework for the modern committee system. The Act organized the Senate and House committees along roughly parallel lines, although over time divergences have emerged. Within the guidelines guidelines of chamber rules, each committee adopts its own rules addressing organizational, structural, and procedural issues. As a consequence, there is considerable variation among panels. AtFollowing organizational meetings at the beginning of the second session of the107th108th Congress, there were 19 standing committees in the House with 88 subcommittees, and one select committee with four two select committees with nine subcommittees. The Senate has 16 standing committees with 68 subcommittees, as well as four select or special committees with no subcommittees. In addition, there are four joint committees. The total number of approximately 200 committees and subcommittees reflects a decline of nearly 100 panels since the 102nd Congress level. This reduction can be attributed to reforms that abolished panels, restricted the creation of subcommittees, reduced committee budgets, and limited Members’ assignments addition there are four joint committees. Types of Committees There are three main types of committees—standing, select or special, and joint. (Party committees, task forces, and congressional Member organizations—informal groups— are not addressed here.) Standing committees are permanent panels identified as such in chamber rules (House Rule X, Senate Rule XXV). Because they have legislative jurisdiction, standing committees committees consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by their respective respective chambers. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress CRS-2 programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and in some cases in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions. jurisdictions. Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress CRS-2 Most standing committees recommend funding levels—authorizations—for government operations and for new and existing programs. A few have other functions. For example, the Appropriations Committees recommend legislation to provide budget authority for federal agencies and programs. The Budget Committees establish aggregate levels for total spending and revenue that serve as guidelines for the work of the authorizing and appropriating panels. Select or special committees are established generally by a separate resolution of the chamber, sometimes to conduct investigations and studies, and, on other occasions, also to consider measures. Often a select committee is established because the existing standing committee system does not provide for an issue to be addressed comprehensively by a single committee, or because a particular event sparks interest in an investigation. A select , select committees examine emerging issues that don’t fit clearly within existing standing committee jurisdictions, or which cut across jurisdictional boundaries. A select committee may be permanent or temporary. Instead of select, the Senate sometimes uses the term special committee (as in the Special Committee on Aging), or does not designate a committee’s type in its title (as in the Committee on Indian Affairs) Aging). Joint committees are made up of Members of both the House and Senate. Today’s joint committees are permanent panels that conduct studies or perform housekeeping tasks rather than consider measures. For instance, the Joint Committee on Printing oversees the the functions of the Government Printing Office and general printing procedures of the federal federal government. The chairmanship of joint committees usually alternates between the House and Senate. A conference committee is a temporary joint committee formed to resolve differences between competing House and Senate versions of a measure. Conference Conference committees draft compromises between the positions of the two chambers, which are then submitted to the full House and Senate for approval. Subcommittees Most committees form subcommittees to share specific tasks within the jurisdiction of the full committee. Subcommittees are responsible to, and work within the guidelines established by, their parent committees. In particular, standing committees usually create subcommittees with legislative jurisdiction to consider and report bills. They may assign their subcommittees such specific tasks as the initial consideration of measures and oversight of laws and programs in the subcommittees’ areas. Subcommittees may play an important role in the legislative process. Because few chamber and party rules apply to subcommittees, the number, prerogatives, and autonomy of subcommittees vary among committees. Senate rules do not directly limit the number of subcommittees each committee may create, while House rules impose a maximum of five subcommittees for most committees (Rule X, clause 5(d)). The number of subcommittees per committee currently ranges from none to 13. Some committees create independent subcommittees with sizeable staff and budgets; routinely refer measures to subcommittees for initial consideration; and allow subcommittees to take the lead in framing issues, drafting measures and reports, and holding hearings and markups. On other committees, most work is undertaken by the full committee. Some full committees repeat all actions taken by their subcommittees, while CRS-3 others review only major subcommittee work or even forward subcommittee-reported measures to the floor with little change.