CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Conduct
Updated August 10, 1999
Richard C. Sachs
Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialists in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
This report covers how House committees plan and conduct hearings; it also reviews
post-hearing activities of committees. It discusses applicable rules of the House, rules adopted
by individual committees, and common committee practices.
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Conduct
Congressional hearings are the principal formal method by which committees
collect and analyze information in the early stages of policy making. Whether
legislative, oversight, investigative, or a combination of these, all hearings share
common elements of preparation and conduct.
House Rule XI sets down many of the regulations to which committees must
conform, including the quorum requirement, advance submission of witness
statements, the opportunity for minority party members to call witnesses of their
choice, the 5-minute rule for questioning witnesses, witness rights, the process for
issuing a subpoena, the procedure for closing a hearing to the public, and the
broadcast of hearings and the behavior of the media. Committees have broad latitude
in how they hold hearings, in part because they adopt their own rules of procedure;
these rules may amplify and supplement House rules, but cannot contravene them.
Customs of committees not embodied in rules also vary considerably among
Committees plan extensively for hearings. Early planning activities commonly
include collecting background information from sources inside and outside the House,
preparing a preliminary hearing memorandum for the chair and members discussing
the scope of the hearings and the expected outcome, and scheduling and giving public
notice of hearings. Choosing witnesses is one of the most important issues, and
committees carefully select witnesses, determine the order and format of their
testimony, and prepare questions or talking points for committee members to use in
questioning witnesses. Other arrangements include preparing briefing books;
determining how the hearings will be broadcast; and attending to the many
administrative matters, such as scheduling an official reporter.
On the day of a hearing, a committee needs a quorum to conduct business.
While the vast majority of hearings are open to the public, a committee may vote to
close a hearing for a reason stated in House rules. Members typically make opening
statements at the beginning of a hearing, then witnesses are introduced and perhaps
sworn by the chair. Witnesses present oral testimony in accordance with the arranged
format; this verbal testimony generally is a summary of the written testimony
submitted in advance. The question and answer period that follows is an opportunity
for a committee to build a public record on a matter and gather needed information
to support future actions. House rules give each committee member five minutes to
question each witness, but each committee determines the order in which its members
will question witnesses and may allow extended questioning by committee members
Following a day of hearings, committee staff may prepare a summary of
testimony, draft additional questions for the day's witnesses, and begin to ready the
hearing transcript for printing. While not required, transcripts generally are printed,
along with supplemental materials approved by the committee.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Coverage and Organization of Report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hearings in the Committee Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Types of Hearings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Preparation for Hearings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Preliminary Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Sources of Outside Assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Supplemental Staffing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Joint Hearings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Scheduling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Notice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Choosing and Inviting Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Advance Written Testimony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Statements of Non-governmental Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Format and Order of Witness Testimony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Subpoenas and Depositions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Briefing Books . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Publicity and Media Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
Administrative Matters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Conducting Hearings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Quorum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Closing a Hearing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Witness Rights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Opening Statements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Introducing Witnesses and Administering the Oath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Oral Testimony of Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Five-Minute Rule for Questioning Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Extended Questioning of Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Order of Questioning Witnesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Relevancy of Debate and Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Questioning by Non-members of the Committee or Subcommittee . . . . .
Post-Hearing Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Printing Hearings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Related CRS Products . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
Other Publications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Conduct
Coverage and Organization of Report
Under House rules, each committee has authority to hold hearings whether the
House is in session, has recessed, or has adjourned (House Rule XI, clause
2(m)(1)(A)). Committees may hold hearings in Washington, or hold "field hearings"
outside the area. Whether legislative, oversight, investigative, or a combination of
these, all hearings share common elements of preparation and conduct. This report
emphasizes these shared elements.
The report describes provisions of House rules that pertain to hearings, and
citations to these rules are included for reference. While House rules generally apply
to committees and subcommittees, it is House Rule XI that contains many provisions
specific to hearings. House rules set the general framework in which committees hold
Each committee is required to adopt and publish written rules of procedure
which must be consistent with House rules, but which may expand upon them (House
Rule XI, clause 2(a)(1)). A committee's rules generally apply to its subcommittees,
although some contain specific procedures for subcommittees (House Rule XI, clause
1(a)(1)(A)). The rules of many committees contain provisions pertaining to hearings,
and this report gives examples from 106th Congress committee rules.1 These examples
are illustrative, intending to show the variation in particular areas. In some cases
multiple committees have the same or similar provisions, but only one committee
provides an example. Thus, this report does not attempt to list comprehensively all
provisions of committee rules that apply to hearings.
Further, the summaries of both House and committee rules are not intended to
capture every nuance and detail of the rules themselves. Members and staff are
advised to consult the text of the appropriate House or committee rule.
In addition to House and committee rules, this report covers common committee
practices in planning and holding hearings. Because each committee has its own rules
and practices, hearing procedures may differ significantly among committees.
For a compilation of House committee rules, see U.S. Congress, House Committee on Rules,
Rules Adopted by the Committees of the House of Representatives, Committee print, 106th
Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 1999), 313 p.
Members and staff needing comprehensive information on the hearing process of a
particular committee are advised to consult the committee.
This report is organized into four main sections. The Introduction addresses not
only coverage and organization, but also the role of hearings in the committee
process, and the various types of hearings.
Committees plan extensively for hearings. Section two, Preparation For
Hearings, discusses how committees carry out these activities. Among other issues,
this section covers:
deciding whether to hold a hearing;
sources that assist committees with hearings;
procuring supplemental staff by contract or detail;
holding joint hearings;
scheduling and giving public notice of hearings;
selecting witnesses and determining the order and format of testimony;
securing advance written testimony from witnesses;
written statements of non-governmental witnesses;
procedures for issuing subpoenas and taking depositions;
preparing briefing books for committee members;
procedures for broadcasting hearings and techniques for attracting and
managing the media; and
! administrative arrangements.
Section three, Conducting Hearings, covers how a hearing is held. Among other
matters, it covers:
closing a hearing to the public;
the rights of witnesses;
opening statements at the outset of a hearing;
introducing and swearing in witnesses;
oral testimony by witnesses; and
the question and answer period following oral testimony.
Finally, section four, Post-Hearing Activities, describes activities committees
often undertake following a hearing. For instance, committee staff may prepare a
summary of testimony, or draft additional questions for witnesses, or print the
hearings transcript along with supplemental materials.
Hearings in the Committee Process
Hearings are the broad information-gathering technique committees use— and
have always used—in policy making and oversight. Hearings may be held on issues
in the absence of specific legislation, but many are held on particular legislative
proposals. In either case, Congress benefits from hearings in a variety of ways.
Hearings inform Members, staff, and the public about measures and issues, and help
assess the intensity of support for proposals. Hearings serve to monitor government
programs and activities, and expose problems that Congress can later correct.
Hearings give citizens an opportunity to participate in the policy process, and help
build the public record for a measure or issue.
House committees act on a minority of the measures introduced and referred to
them, for a number of reasons. For instance, a committee usually receives many
proposals in each major policy area within its jurisdiction, but ultimately chooses one
measure as its vehicle in each such area. Also, a committee usually does not act on
measures that it opposes. When a committee does act, it usually sends a bill to
subcommittee for initial consideration, although committees do not uniformly require
such referral. A committee may decide to send a bill to subcommittee for initial
scrutiny because of the technical nature of the issue, the history of prior handling of
the matter, and political factors, among other reasons. When a committee or a
subcommittee considers a measure, it generally takes four actions. Where a
subcommittee initiates some of the four actions, the extent to which the full
committee repeats some of these steps varies among committees and from issue to
issue. The sequence of actions assumes the committee favors a measure, but at any
time the committee may discontinue action.
First, a committee may seek agency comment, by sending a copy of the measure
to the executive departments or agencies with relevant policy expertise and soliciting
their written feedback. The executive agency typically sends a copy of the measure
to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for a determination as to
consistency with the President's program.
Second, a committee may decide to hold one or more hearings. Further
committee action without hearings is the exception, although hearings have been
bypassed to move measures expeditiously through committee or because of action on
a related bill in the previous Congress. The importance of this action is well stated
by congressional scholar Walter J. Oleszek:
The decision to hold a hearing is a critical point in the life of a bill. Measures
brought to the floor without first being the subject of hearings are likely to be the
targets of sharp criticism .... The sanctity of the committee stage is based on the
assumption that the experts—the committee members—carefully scrutinized a
proposal, and hearings provide a demonstrable record of that scrutiny.2
Third, a committee will hold a markup to evaluate amendments to the legislation,
in part based on information received at hearings. Markup is the critical stage where
the committee determines the specific language it wishes to report. While legislation
may be subsequently amended on the floor, committees have the important
prerogative of shaping it before consideration by the full chamber.
Fourth, the full committee will report the legislation to the floor; subcommittees
must report to their parent committees. When a committee reports a measure, it is
also required to issue a written report that typically describes and explains the
measure's purposes and provisions and tells Members why the measure should be
Walter J. Oleszek, Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process. 4th ed. (Washington:
CQ Press, 1996), p. 110.
passed. The report also may summarize any relevant hearings that were held. This
reporting requirement may be waived.
Types of Hearings
All hearings share common elements of preparation and conduct. Some of these
are governed by House rules, particularly House Rule XI. At the same time, hearings
differ for a number of reasons. First, each committee must adopt its own rules of
procedure for each Congress (House Rule XI, clause 2(a)(1-2)). These must be
consistent with House rules but may also expand or elaborate on them. Committee
rules often contain provisions regulating hearings.
Second, customs not necessarily reflected in committee rules vary among
committees. For example, some committees do not routinely enforce the 5-minute
rule when examining witnesses, a rule that generally allows a Member to question
each witness for five minutes until every member of the committee has had this
opportunity (House Rule XI, clause 2(j)(2)).
Third, hearings are held for different purposes. Depending on the purpose,
hearings can be grouped into three broad classes: legislative, oversight, or
investigative.3 (Sometimes one hearing has dual purposes, e.g. legislative and
oversight.) While in general there are no separate House rules governing each type
of hearing, some rules are invoked more frequently at particular types of hearings.
For instance, Rule XI, clause 2(k)(3) and (5) contains provisions particularly
applicable to investigative hearings, such as protections for the rights of witnesses.
Also, a committee's power to subpoena (House Rule XI, clause 2(m)(1)(B)) usually
is used to obtain documents for investigative hearings or to require the testimony of
witnesses at these sessions.
Committees hold legislative hearings on measures or policy issues that may
become legislation. Sometimes a committee holds hearings on multiple measures
before ultimately choosing one vehicle for further committee and chamber action.
Most often the goal of a legislative hearing is the consideration of a measure for
enactment into law. These hearings provide a forum where facts and opinions on
legislation can be presented from witnesses with many backgrounds, including
Members of Congress and other government officials, representatives of interest
groups and academia, as well as from additional citizens affected by the proposal.
Oversight hearings review or study an issue or an activity, often focusing on the
quality of federal programs and the performance of government officials. They also
help ensure that the execution of laws by the executive branch complies with
legislative intent, and that administrative policies reflect the public interest. Oversight
hearings often seek to improve the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of
Senate committees also hold confirmation hearings, in fulfillment of the Senate's
responsibility under the Constitution to give advice and consent to presidential nominees.
Because the House does not have this constitutional duty, its committees do not hold
government operations. On April 30, 1997, for instance, the Subcommittee on
Immigration and Claims of the Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing
on safeguarding the integrity of the naturalization process. Many committees also
oversee existing programs in the context of hearings on related legislation, or
routinely perform oversight when it is time to reauthorize a program or agency.
Investigative hearings share some of the characteristics of legislative and
oversight hearings. The difference lies in Congress's stated determination to
investigate, usually when there is a suspicion of wrongdoing on the part of public
officials in governmental operations or of private citizens in business or other
activities. Congress has exercised its investigative function since the earliest days of
the republic and its most famous inquiries are benchmarks in American history: Credit
Mobilier, Teapot Dome, Army-McCarthy, Watergate, and Iran-Contra. In some
cases, special committees have been created to conduct investigations, while at other
times the standing committees have investigated matters within their jurisdictions.
Investigative hearings often lead to legislation to address the problems uncovered.
Judicial proceedings may precede or follow congressional inquiries.
Preparation for Hearings
A committee considers a variety of issues in deciding whether to hold a hearing.
A committee must define the information it needs and determine the points it wishes
to communicate, then evaluate whether a hearing is the best method of achieving
these ends. Its agenda for hearings is influenced by factors including the salience of
issues to the nation, the importance of policies to interest groups, and matters of
significance to particular committee members. Programs requiring reauthorization
generally require committee scrutiny, as do instances of reported waste, fraud, or
Each committee receives dozens or even hundreds of proposals for possible
examination and studies matters not embodied in specific legislation. In the context
of this overall workload, a committee must decide whether holding a particular
hearing is the best use of staff and funds. A committee also considers whether and
how a hearing would fit into its overall schedule. It may be particularly difficult for
committees with broad jurisdictions to determine how to allocate limited resources
and to fit matters into the schedule.
To obtain approval for a hearing, committee staff often prepare a preliminary
hearing memorandum for the chair that includes information such as the scope and
purpose of the hearing, the expected outcome, possible witnesses, how many hearing
days are planned, and perhaps the views of the minority party. Informal discussion
with committee members and staff may suffice.
Sources of Outside Assistance
Numerous governmental and non-governmental resources are available to
committees to assist with hearings. Because most hearings are concerned with
government programs, or potential programs, executive agencies often are major
providers of information. Committees may request information directly from specific
offices, or may place requests through an agency's congressional liaison, an office
established to respond to congressional requests for information.
Each of the three congressional support agencies can assist with hearings. The
Congressional Research Service (CRS) can assist in:
framing the agenda for hearings;
preparing background and policy studies;
preparing bibliographies and conducting database searches;
providing information on positions of interest groups and other key players;
suggesting witnesses and drafting questions for Members to ask them;
making its experts available on a nonpartisan basis as witnesses;
preparing studies or documentation for inclusion in the hearing record;
supplying information on program accomplishments; and
evaluating legislative proposals and discussing alternative approaches.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) provides assistance to committees
principally by reviewing executive branch programs through independent audits,
investigations, and evaluations. Its reviews measure the effectiveness of government
programs. The GAO's reports contribute to the background study and examination
necessary for hearings. For instance, reports on investigations of waste, fraud, and
abuse in federal entities may be used at oversight and investigative hearings probing
government programs, or at hearings to craft legislation to correct problems exposed.
In addition to its routine, periodic reviews, GAO may be asked for studies specific to
a committee hearing. Also, GAO experts frequently appear as witnesses.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) furnishes Congress with key
information relating to the U.S. economy, the federal budget, and federal programs.
It assists committees by preparing cost estimates of legislation. Its assistance to
Congress in carrying out the Congressional Budget Act provides a framework and
useful background and analysis for committee hearings. Its responsibilities include:
! estimating the 5-year budgetary costs of legislation;
! tracking congressional budget actions against targets established in budget
! estimating costs to state, local, and tribal governments of carrying out
mandates to be imposed by legislation;
! making periodic forecasts of economic trends and baseline projections of
spending and revenue levels against which proposed changes in taxing and
spending policies can be measured;
! conducting studies of programmatic or policy issues that affect the federal
! preparing an annual report on spending and revenue options for reducing the
Non-governmental organizations provide a wealth of resources for committees.
Knowledgeable individuals in universities, policy research institutes, law and
consulting firms, and trade and other non-profit associations often are willing to assist
committees with data, analysis, and testimony. Interest groups with public policy
concerns become involved at the hearing stage in an attempt to frame the issues early
on in the legislative process. Studies indicate that lobbyists believe testifying at
congressional hearings is an important and effective technique for influencing
legislation. In addition to the policy experts and the special interests, committees seek
information and assistance from ordinary citizens who have direct experience with a
proposed policy or whose lives will bear the impact of Congress's eventual decision.
Committees may find it useful on occasion to supplement their staff to assist with
hearings. Committees may hire consultants or employ staff detailed from any
government agency or department, with the permission of the Committee on House
Oversight. Regulations governing consultants and detailees are contained in the
Committees' Congressional Handbook.4
The services of individual consultants or organizations must be intermittent or
temporary, not to exceed one year or the end of a Congress, whichever occurs first.
A contract first must be approved by a majority of the committee that seeks
consultant services. Information including the proposed contract, the need for the
contract, the amount to be paid, and the consultant's resume must be submitted to the
Committee on House Oversight. Contracts for services which are "the regular and
normal duties" of committee staff will not be approved by the Committee on House
Oversight. At the end of the contract, the chair of the committee employing the
consultant must submit a report to the Committee on House Oversight with
information including any studies or reports prepared by the consultant.
In the past, in order for a committee to hire a consultant, the funding resolution
had to specify the portion of the committee's budget that could be spent on
consultants. This requirement that the funding resolution contain a limit on consultant
funds was eliminated in the 104th Congress (P.L. 104-186). Currently, no more than
10% of a committee's funds may be spent on consultants.
The chair of a committee seeking to have an employee detailed from a
department or agency should submit a written request to the head of the appropriate
agency or department. Any detail can not exceed one year, or the end of a Congress,
whichever comes first. If the agency agrees to loan an employee, the committee chair
submits an authorization request, with a copy of the detailing agreement, to the
U.S. Congress, Committee on House Oversight, Committees' Congressional Handbook:
Regulations Governing the Expenditure of Committee Funds of the U.S. House of
Representatives, 106th Congress (Washington: GPO, 1999), pp. 17-18.
Committee on House Oversight. Written approval of the Committee on House
Oversight is needed before an employee may be detailed.
In the 106th Congress, a committee generally may use detailees from government
agencies on a reimbursable or a non-reimbursable basis, so long as the number of
detailees does not exceed 10% of the committee's staff ceiling as established by the
Speaker. Committees must reimburse agencies for detailees above this limit.
However, a committee must reimburse the Government Printing Office for all
The House Office of Legislative Counsel assists in drafting legislation, works
closely with committees, and sometimes assigns staff to work directly with a
committee. Staff also may be available from the many fellowship, internship, and
volunteer programs that place individuals with committee or Member offices. These
programs can provide staff ranging in expertise from high school and college students
with little or no experience, to trained professionals and subject specialists.
Each panel has the discretion to hold hearings jointly with another committee or
subcommittee. Panels meeting jointly must agree on common rules of procedure and
determine logistical questions, such as meeting rooms. Sometimes two House panels
meet jointly. For example, on July 13, 1999, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power
of the Committee on Commerce, and the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment
of the Committee on Science held a joint hearing on restructuring the Department of
Energy. Sometimes, House and Senate panels hold a joint hearing. For instance, on
March 6, 1996, the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight and the
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs jointly examined the Government
Performance and Results Act of 1993.
Some observers view joint committee sessions as an efficient use of time and
resources. Joint hearings bring together the expertise and differing perspectives of
panels. They may reduce the difficulties and delays that arise from contradictory
actions and proposals, for instance, in the separate chambers. Joint committee
sessions, however, tend to be infrequent. Some Members believe that separate
perspectives and approaches provide significant benefits to Congress. Separate
hearings increase avenues of access for witnesses, and opportunities for influence and
exposure of committee members and leaders. Further, coordinating meeting times
between two panels may present greater scheduling difficulties.
House committees may hold hearings at any time, except during a joint session
or meeting of the House and Senate (House Rule XI, clause 2(i)).5 Any Member may
A joint session occurs upon the adoption by both chambers of a concurrent resolution. The
House and Senate meet in joint session primarily to hear addresses of the President. A joint
meeting is held when both chambers declare themselves in recess, by resolution or unanimous
try to persuade a committee to hold hearings, but the chair generally controls the
schedule. Paramount in scheduling for many committees is choosing a date and time
convenient for committee leaders. The computerized scheduling service of the House
Information Resources office (HIR) allows a committee to coordinate its schedule
with that of other committees, to minimize scheduling conflicts for its members.
In order to maximize member participation, the rules of the House Republican
Conference provide that committee rules should seek to avoid overlapping scheduling
of subcommittee sessions. The rules of many committees thus contain provisions
requiring coordination in scheduling hearings among a committee and its
Examples of several committee rules regarding scheduling follow.
Subcommittee chairs of the House Committee on the Judiciary set dates for hearings
after consultation with each other and with the full committee chair. Each
subcommittee chair of the House Committee on Government Reform notifies the full
committee chair of any hearings plans at least two weeks in advance, so that the chair
can coordinate facilities and plans. On the House Committee on Rules, the chair of
each subcommittee schedules hearings only after consultation with the full committee
chair, and no subcommittee can meet at the same time as the full committee.
Under House rules, the chair of a committee (except Rules) must give at least
one week's public notice of the date, place, and subject of a hearing (House Rule XI,
clause 2(g)(3)). Hearings may be held with less than one week's notice, if either the
chair, with the concurrence of the ranking minority member, or the committee by
majority vote, determines a need. When this happens, the notice should be given as
soon as possible. Notices of hearings appear in the Daily Digest section of the
Congressional Record and in the House's computerized committee scheduling service
Often a committee sends announcements of a hearing to all its members, both
well in advance of, and immediately prior to the hearing. Some committees also
require that particular information be sent to their members or made available to the
public. For instance, upon announcement of a hearing of the House Committee on
Banking and Financial Services, committee staff prepare a concise summary of the
subject matter under consideration and make it available immediately to committee
members. As soon as possible, the House Committee on Resources provides its
members with a tentative witness list and, to the extent practicable, a memorandum
explaining the subject of the hearing. Additionally, the chair makes available to
committee members any official reports from departments and agencies on the subject
matter of the hearing. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce
generally requires its chair to make public the final list of witnesses 48 hours before
consent. Congress holds joint meetings to receive addresses from foreign dignitaries and to
Choosing and Inviting Witnesses
Choosing witnesses is often one of the most important issues in planning a
hearing. Committees pay careful attention to which viewpoints will be represented,
who should testify, and the order and format for presenting witnesses.
In some cases a committee will strive to make sure that all reasonable points of
view are represented, while in other cases witnesses expressing only particular points
of view will be invited. House rules allow the minority party members of a committee
to call witnesses of their choice on at least one day of a hearing, if a majority of them
makes this request to the committee chair before completion of the hearing (House
Rule XI, clause 2(j)(1)). In lieu of this formal option, the minority sometimes works
informally with the majority to invite witnesses representing its views.
In order to testify, a witness must be invited by the committee. Before officially
inviting a witness, committee staff identify and often interview prospective candidates.
When suitable witnesses are found, the committee chair sends a formal letter of
invitation. This letter generally gives the witness some basic information, including
the purpose, subject, date, time, and place of the hearing. In addition to specifying
the portion of a measure or issue the witness should address, the letter might contain
a limitation on the length of the witness's oral testimony.
The committee may send the witness additional information. This information
may include a list of committee members, the committee's rules, the measure under
consideration, and articles relating to the issue. Often a staff contact is indicated.
Staff will sometimes meet with witnesses before a hearing to answer questions and to
A committee may reimburse a witness for expenses related to testimony, and if
reimbursement is expected the letter of invitation may address this point. Under
guidelines of the Committee on House Administration, reimbursement is made only
if a witness could not appear before a committee without it. The committee chair
must specifically authorize the payment. House rules set the rate of pay to be the
same per diem amount as authorized by the Committee on House Administration for
Members and employees of the House, and actual expenses for travel (House Rule
XI, clause 5). However, no per diem is paid to witnesses who have been subpoenaed.
Advance Written Testimony
The letter of invitation also may request that the witness send the committee
biographical information and an advance copy of written testimony. House rules
require each witness (insofar as is practicable) to file with the committee an advance
copy of written testimony, and then to limit oral remarks to a brief summary of his or
her statement (House Rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)). The individual rules of committees
often state how far in advance of the hearing testimony should be filed, usually
between 24 and 72 hours. The rules sometimes also require submission of multiple
copies, and specify to whom the testimony should be delivered.
For example, the Committee on Banking and Financial Services and the House
Committee on Rules ask for testimony 24 hours in advance; the former also generally
requests 200 copies for full committee hearings and 100 copies for subcommittee
hearings. The House Committees on Oversight, Small Business, Ways and Means,
and Education and the Workforce ordinarily require testimony 48 hours before a
hearing. The Committee on Small Business also calls for 50 copies of testimony; the
Committee on Ways and Means requests sufficient copies for distribution to members,
staff, and the media; and the Committee on Education and the Workforce also calls
for a brief summary of written testimony. Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence witnesses generally must file statements 72 hours in advance.
A committee has authority to decide when it is impracticable to require advance
written testimony, for instance, when a witness is invited with too little notice. The
House Committee on Appropriations does not apply the requirement for advance
written testimony and a subsequent oral summary of the testimony for witnesses at
hearings on the overall federal budget. In most cases, however, committees are
aggressive about receiving advance copies of testimony for several reasons. Before
the hearing, committees may want to summarize or outline the testimony, draft
questions tailored to each witness's statement, and photocopy the statement for
distribution to the press and others.
Committee rules sometimes stipulate that testimony be submitted in both written
and electronic form. Electronic submission can facilitate printing the testimony as part
of the hearing record and making testimony available to the public online. The House
Committee on Armed Services, for instance, asks that a prepared statement be
submitted in electronic form at the time the written statement is submitted. Similarly,
for matters of original jurisdiction, the House Committee on Rules requests each
witness to file a statement of proposed testimony in written and electronic form, to
the maximum extent practicable.
Statements of Non-governmental Witnesses
The advance written statements of non-governmental witnesses must contain
particular information. In addition to a resume, the statement must contain the
amount and source of any federal grant or contract received by the witness or the
organization being represented during the current or previous two fiscal years (House
Rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)). The "Truth in Testimony Rule," as it is commonly called,
was adopted at the beginning of the 105th Congress. It is intended to provide
committee members and the public with information on a witness's education,
experience, and receipt of grants and contracts to assist members with evaluating the
witness's views and remarks. The rules of the House Committee on Science state
explicitly that witnesses should provide information on grants or contracts which are
relevant to the subject of the testimony.
Committee rules rarely compel additional specific information to be included in
witness testimony. A notable exception is the House Committee on Ways and Means,
which requires a witness at a hearing who submits a statement for the record, or a
written response to a published request for comments, to include a list of all clients,
persons, or organizations on whose behalf the witness appears.
Format and Order of Witness Testimony
Committees determine the format and order of presenting witnesses. The
traditional format is one at a time, whereby a witness makes a statement and then
takes questions from committee members before a second witness testifies.
Committees have used different formats recently, and it has become common to
present witnesses with diverging viewpoints as a panel. It is practice in this case for
all panel members to make statements, then for committee members to pose questions
to the panel or to various panelists. Some observers believe that this format produces
a more stimulating debate and more effectively elicits pertinent information. In recent
years committees have experimented with several other formats for gathering
information, which may not always formally be considered hearings. For instance,
committees have held seminars consisting of briefings by experts with informal
opportunities for asking questions, and roundtable discussions where committee
members and staff have a free flowing dialogue with knowledgeable outsiders.
The order in which witnesses testify is arranged at the discretion of the
committee. Protocol dictates that a Member of Congress desiring to testify generally
appears before other witnesses, and a similar privilege often is extended to high
ranking executive branch officials. Celebrity witnesses are carefully placed in the
lineup because they often generate significant media and public attention. They often
are scheduled to appear at times of high attendance by committee members and
viewing by the public, such as at the beginning of the hearing. Academics,
representatives from interest groups, and other private citizens are arranged in a way
that most favorably presents information and communicates the intent of the
committee. For example, a committee may arrange its witnesses to allow one
individual to refute arguments made by another.
Subpoenas and Depositions
Most individuals respond favorably to an invitation to testify, believing it to be
a valuable opportunity to communicate and publicize their views on a question of
public policy. However, if a person will not come by invitation, a committee may
require a witness to appear through a subpoena (House Rule XI, clause 2(m)(A-B)).
Committees also may subpoena any relevant books, records, correspondence,
memoranda, papers, and other documents. Subpoenas are used infrequently, and
most often at investigative hearings.
Under House rules, a committee may authorize and issue a subpoena with a
majority quorum present. However, a committee may delegate this authority to its
chair, under any limitations it establishes. Many committees currently require majority
approval to issue a subpoena, but have adopted additional procedures. For instance,
the House Committee on Agriculture requires that a notice of a meeting to issue a
subpoena be sent to all members by 5 p.m. on the day preceding the meeting. Several
committees, including Commerce, allow the chair to issue a subpoena during any
adjournment of the House for more than three days. The House Committee on
Commerce chair must notify the committee of this action as soon as possible, in no
case later than one week after service of the subpoena. If a request for a subpoena
has not been previously rejected by the Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure or one of its subcommittee, the full committee chair may issue the
subpoena after consultation with the ranking minority member. The chair must then
notify all committee members of the action.
Other committees have delegated general subpoena authority to the chair. Small
Business Committee rules allow the chair to issue a full committee subpoena, although
the ranking minority member must be promptly notified. Further, the chairs of Small
Business subcommittees are authorized to issue subpoenas for their panels, but
require the approval of a majority of the subcommittee and the full committee chair.
A committee requiring a subpoena can obtain the appropriate form from the
Clerk of the House. Subpoenas usually are delivered by authorized committee staff
or by the U.S. Marshal's office. Compliance with a subpoena can be enforced only
at the direction of the House. Under one method of enforcement, a committee could
report a resolution citing for contempt an individual who did not respond to a
subpoena. If approved by the House, the resolution would be sent to the Office of the
U.S. Attorney for prosecution.
Committee staff commonly consult with experts to gather information in
preparation for a hearing. A more formal means of obtaining information, for
investigative hearings in particular, is through the use of depositions. Under this
method, committees commonly take testimony in private, in some cases from
individuals who also appear as witnesses. The testimony is sometimes taken under
oath, and a transcript may be prepared. Individuals often are accompanied by
counsel, and respond to prepared questions.
Because House rules do not expressly authorize committees to take depositions,
on occasion the House has granted specific authority for such action by resolution.
In such cases, the committee usually has adopted procedures expanding on its
authority to take depositions. As an example, the House in 1997 approved a
resolution authorizing staff of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
to take depositions in the study of alleged political fundraising improprieties and
possible violations of law (H.Res. 167, 105th Congress, agreed to June 20, 1997).
Committees often ask staff to prepare summary and background material for use
by their members before and during a hearing. This information is sometimes
assembled into briefing books or folders to present issues in a systematic, uniform
way. Briefing books might include a variety of items, including a description of the
subject, scope, and purpose of the hearing. For legislative hearings, a copy and an
explanation of each measure under consideration, and a comparison of all measures
to be discussed, are useful. Background material might include pertinent statutes and
regulations, court decisions, press articles, agency reports, academic studies, and a
chronology of major events. To assist members with witnesses, the books might
contain a list of witnesses in their order of appearance, a copy or summary of written
testimony, and biographical information. Briefing material might also include
questions or talking points for committee members to use in opening statements and
in examining witnesses.
Before a hearing, committee staff sometimes brief members and other staff. Staff
may conduct oral briefings in addition to, or in lieu of, preparing briefing books.
These sessions provide an opportunity to discuss matters of particular interest to
individual committee members.
Publicity and Media Considerations
A committee's goal in holding a hearing often is not narrowly limited to
collecting information for policy development. It includes publicizing an issue or
problem to focus attention. Public exposure of a problem at an oversight or
investigative hearing can be a particularly effective technique. Public officials often
seem responsive to correcting program deficiencies when an issue has been broadly
publicized. Hearings also are used to build support for a proposal among the public
generally or certain sectors thereof. Members and witnesses make arguments that
form part of the public record in support of future committee action, such as reporting
House rules influence how a committee plans for media coverage and other
publicity matters. For example, House rules require that hearings be open to the
public, as well as to radio, television, and still photography coverage, unless a
committee votes to close a hearing (House Rule XI, clause 2(g)(2)(A)). Hearings
may be closed only for limited and specific reasons—for example, to deal with
information that could compromise national security. (See "Closing a Hearing",
Detailed provisions of House rules dealing with broadcasting committee hearings
point up the importance to Congress of television coverage (House Rule XI, clause
4). Among the issues covered are the following:
! Radio and television coverage cannot be used as partisan political campaign
material to promote or oppose a person's political candidacy.
! Coverage must be "in strict conformity with and observance of the acceptable
standards of dignity, propriety, courtesy, and decorum traditionally observed
by the House."
! Hearings open to the public must be open to coverage by the media, although
in November 1997, the House removed language in Rule XI, clause 4 that
previously allowed subpoenaed witnesses to request that television lenses be
covered, microphones used for media coverage be turned off, and still cameras
! Once a chair determines the number of cameras that will be permitted in a
hearing, the Executive Committee of the Radio and Television Correspondents'
Galleries determines how those cameras will be allocated among the television
! Neither television cameras nor still photographers can be positioned between
the witness table and members of the committee, and photographers may not
position themselves where they might obstruct coverage by other media.
! Television cameras must operate from fixed positions and cannot obstruct
coverage of the hearing by other media.
! Television and radio equipment must be in place before the hearing begins and
cannot be installed or removed from the hearing room while the committee is
! Technicians may install additional lighting in a hearing or meeting room in
order to raise the ambient lighting level in a hearing to the lowest level
necessary to provide adequate television coverage. Otherwise, additional
lighting, such as spotlights and strobelights, is not permitted.
! Preference in allocating the number of still photographers permitted by
committee chairs must be given to photographers from the Associated Press
Photos and United Press International Newspictures. If requests are made by
more media than permitted by the chair, pool coverage is arranged by the
Standing Committee of Press Photographers.
! Individuals providing media coverage must be accredited to the Radio and
Television Correspondents' Galleries or the Press Photographers' Gallery.
The House Committee on Ways and Means is one of the few committees with
rules expanding upon these provisions. The committee forbids interviews in the
hearing room while the committee is in session, and individual interviews must take
place before the gavel falls to convene a meeting or after the gavel falls for its
adjournment. The media must notify the committee one day in advance of planned
"electronic coverage." In addition, klieg lights are permitted in the hearing room but
only during the first 15 minutes after the chair initially calls the committee to order.
Committee press aides usually are responsible for planning media coverage for
a hearing, and they typically employ a number of diverse techniques for attracting and
managing the media. In some cases, press aides in Members' personal offices take
similar actions on behalf of individual committee members. Often an early objective
is to seek the assistance of the House Press Gallery, the Periodical Press Gallery, and
the Radio and TV Correspondents' Gallery. The mission of the gallery staffs is not
only to facilitate coverage of House activities on behalf of the media, but also to assist
Member and committee staff with their media responsibilities. Gallery staff can assist
committees in a variety of ways, by distributing press releases and witness statements,
resolving differences involving camera crews, and making pool arrangements for
maximum television coverage, including setting cables for broadcasting.
Some committees routinely prepare calendars informing the media of upcoming
events. The information typically includes a list of hearings and a description of each,
emphasizing why the hearing is important. For each hearing, these calendars provide
the date, time, and location, as well as a staff contact.
Press releases are a standard format for informing journalists of newsworthy
committee activities. In addition to the committee's press list, press releases also can
be distributed to committee and Member offices and the House press galleries.
Language from press releases can be used to draft "Dear Colleague" letters and
Member statements for use in committee and on the floor.
Committee staff often put together media packets prior to hearings. The packets
can include a variety of material, such as statements by the committee chair and other
members; a list of witnesses and copies of written testimony; and background material
such as press clippings and support agency studies.
As the day of a hearing approaches, reporters often will seek out staff for
information. Many committees prefer that journalists' discussions with staff be "on
background" and not for attribution. Speaking for attribution usually is limited to
Press conferences are a common technique for personally informing interested
journalists of important issues in an upcoming hearing, and for clarifying issues
immediately following a hearing. Some committee members prefer to meet informally
with reporters in the hallway outside the hearing room. Others prefer a more
structured environment, in the hearing room or the Member's office.
Dozens of administrative arrangements need to be made before a hearing, and
these usually are handled by a committee's administrative staff. Two important
administrative matters are (1) reserving a hearing room, and (2) arranging for an
official reporter early in the planning stage. If a committee's own hearing rooms are
unavailable, it may try to borrow a room from another committee. In the past, it has
also been possible to borrow rooms within the jurisdiction of the Speaker and other
leaders and officers by contacting the pertinent offices. Upon request, the office of
Official Reporters (Clerk of the House) will provide a reporter to transcribe a hearing.
Many administrative details concern the physical setup of the hearing room.
These include securing furniture and equipment; arranging items on the dais such as
nameplates, writing materials, ashtrays, water, and ice; supplying the chair with a
gavel, block, and timer; providing the chair and other members with materials not
included in the briefing books, such as copies of committee and House rules; reserving
seats for the press, staff, witnesses, or other individuals; turning on audio consoles,
microphones, and lighting. Sufficient copies of relevant materials to be distributed,
such as Member and witness statements, should be provided for distribution at the
Security during hearings is provided by the U.S. Capitol Police. If a hearing
deals with sensitive or volatile issues, or there is unusually great public interest,
multiple officers in uniform or plain clothes may be assigned. The Capitol Police may
take any law enforcement actions that become necessary during the course of a
hearing, such as responding to a disturbance or making an arrest of an unruly
spectator. The Capitol Police also provides security for protected witnesses, such as
the Attorney General and other high ranking government officials.
As previously noted, hearings involve extensive preparation. By the day of the
hearing, important requirements of House rules, such as publicly announcing hearings,
have been met. Critical decisions, such as choice and format of witnesses, have been
made. Necessary research has been conducted, for instance obtaining materials
commonly assembled in a briefing book. Briefings may have been prepared for
Members, staff, witnesses, and the press. Administrative issues, such as arranging for
an official reporter, have been attended to. Because of thorough and careful
preparation, many hearings proceed without surprises. However, committees
sometimes confront unanticipated events that require a change in plans, such as calling
additional witnesses or closing a session to the public.
Each committee can determine the number of members required for its hearings,
but House rules require a minimum quorum of two members at any hearing (House
Rule XI, clause 2(h)(2)). While most committees have adopted this minimum, there
are variations. For example, the House Committee on Ways and Means requires a
quorum of two, but its rule requires that every effort be made to secure the presence
of at least one majority and one minority party member. The House Committee on
Rules operates with different hearings quorums for different purposes. The quorum
is five for full committee testimony on requests for rules, three for measures or
matters of original jurisdiction before the full committee, and two for testimony before
Committee staff often poll members before the start of a hearing to determine
who plans to attend. Sometimes staff also obtain information on where members can
be reached, in case they are needed to meet the quorum requirement. Committees
sometimes proceed with hearings without a quorum. For instance, a committee may
work through a roll call vote on the floor by leaving only one member presiding over
the hearing while others vote. The first committee member to return from the floor
may replace the member presiding, who then leaves to cast his or her vote. However,
if any member makes a point of order that a quorum is not present, the committee
cannot continue to conduct business until the presence of a quorum is established.
Closing a Hearing
The vast majority of committee hearings are open to the public, as required
under House rules. But House rules permit committees to close a hearing for specific
reasons, and outline the procedure for doing so (House Rule XI, clauses 2(g)(2) and
2(k)(5)). A hearing may be closed to the public "because disclosure of testimony,
evidence, or other matters to be considered would endanger the national security,
would compromise sensitive law enforcement information, or would violate any law
or rule of the House of Representatives." To close part or all of a hearing, a
committee must vote by roll call in open session and with a majority present.
However, with a quorum present for taking testimony, a committee may vote to close
a hearing (1) because the anticipated testimony at an investigative hearing "may tend
to defame, degrade, or incriminate any person," or (2) solely to discuss whether there
is reason to continue the hearing in closed session.
House rules permit most committees to close a hearing on a particular day and
on one subsequent day of hearings. However, the House Committees on
Appropriations, Armed Services, and Intelligence may vote to close their hearings for
five additional, consecutive days of hearings.
Members of the House generally may attend, but not participate in, hearings of
committees (except the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) on which
they do not serve. Nevertheless, the House may vote to authorize a committee to use
procedures for closing a hearing to the public to close hearings to Members not on
the committee as well.
In 1955, the House first adopted rules to protect the rights of witnesses. These
rules responded to criticism about the treatment of witnesses, particularly at
investigative hearings such as those to explore Communist Party activities in the
United States. Today, several protections for witnesses, especially at investigative
hearings, are contained in House rules (House Rule XI, clause 2(k)). For example,
witnesses are given a copy of the rules of the committee and House rules applicable
to investigative hearings. They may be accompanied by their own counsel to advise
them of their constitutional rights. Further, if evidence will tend to defame, degrade,
or incriminate a person, the committee may vote, with a quorum present for taking
testimony, to meet in closed session. The committee may proceed in open session
only if the committee, with a majority present, determines that the evidence will not
do so. In either case, the committee will give that person an opportunity to appear
as a witness, and take requests from the individual to subpoena additional witnesses.
In other instances, the chair receives and the committee disposes of requests to
Witnesses also are protected by the Constitution, in particular the Fourth, Fifth,
and First Amendments. While committees need to obtain answers to questions, the
Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure to obtain information.
Under Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, witnesses cannot be
compelled to give evidence against themselves unless granted immunity. The First
Amendment protects witnesses who may seek to refuse compliance with a committee
subpoena by claiming that the committee infringed on the witness's right to free
speech, assembly, or petition.
When present, a committee's chair ordinarily will preside over its hearings.
House rules allow each committee chair to designate a majority party member to be
the vice chair of the full committee or a subcommittee, and stipulate that the vice chair
presides in the temporary absence of the chair (House Rule XI, clause 2(d)). If both
the chair and vice chair are absent, the most senior majority party member presides.
To begin the hearing, the chair usually makes an opening statement introducing
the subject and purpose of the session. The chair may describe important events
leading to the hearing and key contemporary issues. He or she also may outline the
committee's approach to the matter; how interruptions, such as for roll call votes, will
be handled; and the schedule of future hearings. When finished, the chair generally
recognizes the ranking minority party member to make an opening statement, and may
then recognize other members.
However, not all committees allow opening statements by all committee
members. The rules of the House Committee on Resources, for instance, preclude
opening statements unless the chair (or designee) makes a statement, in which case
the ranking minority member (or designee) also may make a statement. In practice,
chairs of other committees sometimes discourage opening statements in the interest
of time, perhaps asking that interested members instead submit opening statements for
the printed hearing record.
Where opening statements are permitted, they usually occur under the fiveminute rule which allows a member to speak for five minutes when recognized by the
chair. However, this is not always the case. While the Commerce Committee chair
and ranking minority member (or designees) may speak for five minutes, other
committee members are limited to three minutes each. The Science Committee
attempts to restrict the total time of opening statements. Its rules generally provide
that, after consultation with the ranking minority member, the chair limits the total
time for opening statements by members to no more than 10 minutes. The time is
equally divided among members present who wish to make an opening statement.
Introducing Witnesses and Administering the Oath
Following any opening statements, the chair generally introduces each witness
in accordance with the arranged order and format. A committee member other than
the chair might introduce a witness in some cases. The House Committee on
Resources, for instance, permits a committee member to introduce a witness who is
House rules authorize the chair, or any member designated by the chair, to
administer the oath to a witness (House Rule XI, clause 2(m)(2)). In practice, most
committees rarely require testimony under oath. Swearing in of witnesses appears to
be more common at investigative hearings and hearings dealing with sensitive subject
matter. For instance, under the rules of the Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence, testimony is to be given under oath or affirmation, unless waived by the
chair. Further, the rules of a few committees prescribe a particular oath if witnesses
are sworn. The rules of the House Committee on Armed Services contain the
following: "Do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that the testimony you will give before
this Committee (or subcommittee) in the matters now under consideration will be the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
Oral Testimony of Witnesses
Under House rules, each committee requires witnesses to limit their oral
testimony to a brief summary of their argument, insofar as is practicable (House Rule
XI, clause 2(g)(4)). In the interest of time, and because written testimony generally
is available to the committee in advance, it is usually not necessary or desirable for a
witness to read his or her entire written statement.
On some committees the chair has the discretion to determine how long a
witness may speak. On the House Committee on Agriculture, witnesses may be
limited to brief summaries of their statements within the time allotted to them, at the
discretion of the chair. Other committees have adopted rules stipulating how long a
witness may speak, typically for five minutes. For instance, each witness before the
House Committees on Resources and the Committee on Science is restricted to a five
minute summary of his or her written remarks. Resources Committee witnesses may
be granted additional time by the chair, in consultation with the ranking minority
member, and Science Committee witnesses may receive additional time by the chair.
Five-Minute Rule for Questioning Witnesses
The question and answer period which follows a witness's opening statement
presents an opportunity for a committee to build a public record and to obtain
information to support future committee actions. Committee staff sometimes prepare
questions or talking points for committee leaders and other members. In some cases,
the expected line of questioning is discussed in advance with witnesses.
House rules generally accord committee members five minutes to question each
witness until every member has had this opportunity (House Rule XI, clause 2(j)(2)).
In practice, many committees allow an extension of time by unanimous consent, and
a few committees, such as Veterans' Affairs, specify this in their rules. After the first
round of questioning under the 5-minute rule, committees can determine how to
dispose of any additional time. Some committees specify a procedure for this in their
rules. For example, the rules of the House Committee on the Budget provide for a
second round of questioning under the 5-minute rule, while rules of the House
Committee on Agriculture allow the chair to limit the time for further questioning.
Extended Questioning of Witnesses
House rules allow a committee to extend the time for questioning witnesses by
adopting a rule or motion to allow an equal number of its majority and minority party
members to question a witness for a period not to exceed one hour in the aggregate.
(House Rule XI, clause 2(j)(1)(B)). Similarly, a committee may adopt a rule or
motion allowing its majority and minority staff to question a witness for equal periods
of time, not to exceed one hour in the aggregate. (House Rule XI, clause 2(j)(1)(C)).
Several committees have adopted procedures allowing extended questioning.
The rules of some committees, for instance the Committee on Agriculture, give only
members this authority. They state that the chair and ranking minority may designate
an equal number of members from each party to question witnesses, and that no
person shall interrogate witnesses other than committee and subcommittee members
unless a majority of the committee or subcommittee determines otherwise.
The source of the authority for extended questioning differs among committees.
On the House Committee on Government Reform, the chair, with the concurrence of
the ranking minority member, or the committee by motion, may permit members or
staff to question witnesses for an extended period. On the House Committee on
Veterans' Affairs, the chair, after consultation with the ranking minority member, may
designate members or permit staff to conduct extended questioning.
Further, a few committees specify when any extended questioning could occur.
For instance, the chair of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs can not recognize a
member for extended questioning until all members have had a chance to question
witnesses under the five minute rule. By contrast, the rules of the House Committee
on Government Reform imply that extended questioning may precede the questioning
of witnesses under the five minute rule.
A few committee rules also detail how the time for extended questioning is to
be allocated. On the Committee on Government Reform, the chair determines how
to allocate the time permitted for extended questioning by majority members or staff,
and the ranking minority member determines how to allocate the time for minority
members or staff. The chair, or the ranking minority member, as applicable, may
allocate the time for extended questioning by staff to members.
Order of Questioning Witnesses
Each committee has discretion to determine the order in which its members may
question witnesses. A common procedure allows alternating between the parties, in
order of seniority. By contrast, the so-called "early bird rule" permits members to
question witnesses based on members' order of arrival at the hearing. Some
committees use a combination of these two methods. The rules of many committees
contain provisions granting their chairs flexibility in recognition, to take into
consideration the ratio of majority to minority members present. In practice,
committee chairs may entertain requests to proceed out of order to accommodate the
schedules of individual members.
Committee rules covering the order for questioning witnesses vary. On the
Committee on House Administration, questioning begins with the chair and ranking
minority party member, then alternates between the majority and minority parties.
Further, the chair is to take into consideration the ratio of majority to minority
members present in order not to disadvantage the majority. The chair may accomplish
this by recognizing two majority party members for each minority member
recognized. In the case of the Committee on Armed Services, all members present
at the start of a hearing will be recognized in order of seniority, and thereafter,
members are recognized in order of appearance. However, the Committee chair also
must take into consideration the ratio of majority to minority members present, and
the chair and ranking minority member take precedence upon their arrival.
Relevancy of Debate and Questions
House rules require Members speaking on the floor to confine themselves to the
question under debate (House Rule XVII(1)(b)(1)). While this rule generally is
applicable to debate in committee, some committee rules apply it explicitly to
hearings. In questioning witnesses, members of the Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure are limited in their remarks to the subject matter under consideration.
The Committee on Armed Services requires questions put to witnesses to be pertinent
to the measure or matter under consideration. The House Committee on Government
Reform requires that questions put to witnesses at investigative hearings be relevant
to the subject matter before the committee, and that the chair rule on relevance of
questions put to witnesses. On the House Committee on Agriculture, members are
limited in debate to the subject matter under consideration, unless by unanimous
consent permission is granted to extend remarks beyond such subject. In addition,
questions put to witnesses must be germane to the matter under consideration.
Questioning by Non-members of the Committee or Subcommittee
House rules allow committees to adopt a rule or motion permitting majority and
minority staff to question witnesses for equal periods of time. (See "Extended
Questioning of Witnesses.") Committee rules sometimes give additional authority for
staff to question witnesses. The Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for
example, allows witnesses to be interrogated by such committee staff as are
authorized by the chair or the presiding member.
Several committees permit their members to participate in the hearings of
subcommittees of which they are not members, although the specific provisions differ.
In some cases, this prerogative appears to be restricted to the chair and ranking
minority member of the full committee. For instance, many committees allow the
chair and ranking minority member to serve, ex-officio, on all subcommittees, which
presumably allows them to participate in subcommittee hearings. The rules of the
House Committee on Appropriations make explicit that the chair and ranking minority
member may sit as members of all subcommittees and may participate, including
voting, in subcommittee work.
By contrast, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce allows any
committee member to attend subcommittee hearings and question witnesses. Other
committees explicitly bar non-subcommittee members from engaging in certain
activities, while presumably allowing them to question witnesses. Any member of the
House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for example, may sit with any subcommittee
during any hearing or meeting, but may not vote, be counted for a quorum, or raise
a point of order.
Relatedly, even if a hearing is closed to the public, all Members of the House
generally may attend, but not participate in, hearings of committees (except the
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) on which they do not serve (House
Rule XI, clause 2(g)(2)(c)). However, a committee may use the procedures for
closing a hearing to the public to close hearings to Members not on the committee,
if the House so authorizes by vote.
After examining the last witness, the committee chair closes the hearing. The
chair may summarize what has been learned about the issue, and comment on the
future committee schedule or expected action.
After a day of hearings, staff might be asked to prepare a summary of testimony.
The summary might be distributed to committee members and the press and become
part of any published hearing. Follow-up questions can be prepared and submitted
to witnesses for written replies to clear up points not resolved during the hearing. If
the hearing is investigative, the committee can prepare and issue its report. If the
hearing is legislative, the committee might proceed to mark up and report a measure
to the House. Finally, committees attend to administrative details following a hearing,
such as restoring the hearing room to its original condition and sending thank you
letters to witnesses.
Committees generally are protected on the House floor from points of order
against actions that occurred during their hearings. Under House rules, in general a
point of order cannot be raised on the floor against a measure reported by a
committee on the grounds that the committee had not complied with provisions in
House rules concerning hearings (House Rule XI, clause 2(g)(5)). However, a
member of the reporting committee may make such a point of order on the floor if the
point of order was made in committee in a timely manner but was improperly
overruled or not properly considered.
Committees are required to keep transcripts of their hearings. Most committees
regularly ask the Office of Official Reporters, Clerk of the House, to provide a
reporter to transcribe a hearing. Transcripts must be substantially verbatim (House
Rule XI, clause 2(e)(1)(A)). Only technical, grammatical, and typographical
corrections authorized by the person making the remarks are allowed.
Further, committees usually publish their transcripts, although this is not
required. House rules encourage committees to publish their hearings on reported
measures. In general, if hearings have been held on any measure or matter reported
by committee, the rules require the committee to make every reasonable effort to have
the hearings printed and available to Members before floor consideration (House Rule
XIII, clause 4(b)). General appropriations bills may not be considered in the House
until printed hearings and a committee report have been available for at least three
calendar days excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays except when the
House is in session on such a day (House Rule XIII, clause 4(c)). In addition,
testimony taken in executive session may not be released or used in public sessions
without the consent of a majority of the committee present (House Rule XI, clause
The rules of some committees address the authority to print hearings. Transcripts
of Budget Committee hearings may be printed if the chair so decides or if a majority
of the members so request. The Appropriations Committee requires that a transcript
of all hearings on the federal budget as a whole be printed and distributed to
Each committee may establish procedures for correcting its transcripts, and some
committees have rules to expedite this process. The House Committee on Ways and
Means, for example, requires each witness to correct and immediately return the
transcript, and members must correct their testimony and return the corrected
transcripts as soon as possible. Further, the committee chair can order a transcript
printed without the corrections of a member or witness if he determines that a
reasonable time has elapsed and that further delay would impede the legislative
Each committee also has discretion to print supplemental materials as part of the
printed hearing. For example, in its printed hearing a committee might include written
statements of witnesses, charts and research materials prepared by committee staff,
and letters and testimony from individuals who did not appear as witnesses. A printed
hearing also might include witness responses to questions posed during the hearing
that the witness could not answer on the spot, or witness responses to follow-up
questions. The rules of some committees address the printing of supplemental
material or information. For instance, the House Committee on Agriculture's hearings
must include the attendance of members during the hearings.
House rules require that, to the maximum extent feasible, committees are to
make their publications available to the public in electronic form (House Rule XI,
clause 2(e)(4)). This rules change in the 105th Congress was intended to encourage
committees to make printed, public materials available on the Internet. While a
number of committee rules restate this House rule, those of the Small Business
Committee expressly state that the proposed testimony of witnesses must be provided
to the public in electronic form. In the 106th Congress, most committees have made
written testimony and/or hearing transcripts available online (see
House rules require that a committee's hearings, records, and other documents
be kept separate from the personal office records of the chair, and generally allow all
Members of the House access to a committee's records (House Rule XI, clause
2(e)(2)). The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 requires that at the end of each
session of Congress, each committee's printed hearings must be bound by the Library
of Congress. In addition, at the end of each Congress, the chair of each committee
is to transfer to the Clerk of the House the noncurrent records of the committee
(House Rule VII, clause 1). Noncurrent committee records are preserved and made
available by the National Archives and Records Administration, in accordance with
House and committee rules.
Related CRS Products
CRS Report 96-109. Committee Numbers, Sizes, Assignments, and Staff: Selected
Historical Data, by Carol Hardy Vincent and Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report RL30244. The Committee Markup Process in the House of
Representatives, by Stanley Bach.
CRS Report 97-625. The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, by Carol Hardy
CRS Report 97-138. Committee System: Rules Changes in the House, 106th
Congress, by Judy Schneider.
CRS Report RL30240. Congressional Oversight Manual, by Louis Fisher et al.
CRS Report 98-304. House Committee Hearings: Arranging Witnesses, by Carol
CRS Report 98-488. House Committee Hearings: Preparation, by Richard C. Sachs.
CRS Report 98-339. House Committee Hearings: Scheduling and Notification, by
Carol Hardy Vincent.
CRS Report 98-338. House Committee Hearings: Witness Testimony, by Carol
CRS Report 97-148. House Committee Staff and Funding, by Carol Hardy Vincent.
CRS Report 97-357. House Rules Affecting Committees, by Stanley Bach and Carol
CRS Report 95-464. Investigative Oversight: An Introduction to the Law, Practice,
and Procedure of Congressional Inquiry, by Morton Rosenberg.
CRS Report 98-870. Quorum Requirements in the House: Committee and Chamber,
by Richard C. Sachs.
CRS Report 98-317. Types of Committee Hearings, by Richard C. Sachs.
CRS Report 98-101. Whitewater: Comparisons of Cost and Other Selected Data
with Previous Investigations, by David C. Huckabee, Richard C. Sachs, and
Faye M. Bullock.
Aberbach, Joel D., Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional
Oversight. Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1990.
DeGregorio, Christine., "Leadership Approaches in Congressional Committee
Hearings." Western Political Quarterly, vol. 45, Dec. 1992: 971-983.
Hill, James P., "The Third House of Congress versus the Fourth Branch of
Government: The Impact of Congressional Committee Staff on Agency Regulatory
Decision-Making." John Marshall Law Review,vol. 19, Winter 1996: 247-273.
Lustberg, Arch, Testifying with Impact: A "How to" Booklet for Those who
Testify on the Federal, State, or Local Levels of Government. Washington:
Association Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1982.
Oleszek, Walter J., "Preliminary Legislative Action," In Congressional
Procedures and the Policy Process, 4th ed. Washington: CQ Press, 1996.
Schneier, Edward V. and Bertram Gross, "Committee Action or Inaction," In
Congress Today. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.
Unekis, Joseph K., "Committee Hearings," In The Encyclopedia of the United
States Congress, Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson, and Morton Keller, eds. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, pp. 423-426..
U.S. General Accounting Office, Office of Special Investigations, Investigators'
Guide to Sources of Information. Washington: GPO, April 1997, 113 p.
Wells, William G. Jr., "Hearings and Testimony," In Working with Congress:
A Practical Guide for Scientists and Engineers. Washington: American Association
for the Advancement of Science and Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology,
and Government, 1992.