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Committee Types and Roles

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Order Code 98-241 GOV Updated March 13, 2007November 26, 2008 Committee Types and Roles Valerie Heitshusen Analyst in American National Governmenton the Congress and Legislative Process Government and Finance Division Structure of the Committee System Congress divides its legislative, oversight, and internal administrative tasks among more than 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 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].1 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, but divergences have emerged over time. Within the 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 and across chambers. Following organizational meetings at the beginningBy the conclusion of the 110th Congress, there were 20 standing committees in the House with 9799 subcommittees, and twothree select committees.2 The Senate has 16 standing committees with 72 subcommittees, as well as four select or special committees with no subcommittees. In addition.3 In addition, there are four joint committees. 1 This report was originally written by Thomas P. Carr, formerly an Analystanalyst in American National National Government at CRS. The listed author has updated this report and is available to respond to inquiries on the subject. 2 One of the select committees — the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence — operates, in many ways, like a permanent standing committee; it has four subcommittees. The two temporary select committees created during the 110th Congress — the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Select Committee on the Voting Irregularities of August 2, 2007 — have no subcommittees. 3 Three of these select or special committees — Indian Affairs, the Select Committee on Ethics, and the Special Committee on Aging — have no subcommittees; the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has one has four subcommittees. In March 2007, the House created (in H.Res. 202) the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. CRS-2 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 consider bills and issues and recommend measures for consideration by their respective chambers. They also have oversight responsibility to monitor agencies, programs, and activities within their jurisdictions, and in some cases in areas that cut across committee jurisdictions. 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, via the annual budget resolution, 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, select committees examine emerging issues that do not fit clearly within existing standing committee jurisdictions, or which cut across jurisdictional boundaries. A select committee may be permanent or temporary. Select committees may have certain restrictions on member tenure or may include certain specified representatives (e.g., party leaders or certain standing committee chairs) as ex officio members. Instead of select, the Senate sometimes uses the term special committee (e.g., the Special Committee on 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 functions of the Government Printing Office and general printing procedures of the 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 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. CRS-3 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. House rules impose a maximum of five subcommittees for most committees (Rule X, clause 5(d)), but a sixth oversight subcommittee is permitted; several committees, such as the Appropriations Committee, have been allowed — via House rules — a larger number of subcommittees. 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 others review only major subcommittee work or even forward subcommittee-reported measures to the floor with little change.