Hearings in the House of Representatives: A Guide for Preparation and Procedure
CRS Report for Congress
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Procedure
Updated June 13, 2006
Thomas P. Carr
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Procedure
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 committee hearings
must conform, including the quorum requirement, advance submission of witness
statements, the opportunity for minority party members to call witnesses of their
choosing, the five-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 media behavior. 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 usually plan extensively for hearings. Early planning activities
commonly include collecting background information from sources within 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. Carefully selecting witnesses,
determining the order and format of their testimony, and preparing questions or
talking points for committee members to use in questioning are all important
considerations. Other arrangements include preparing briefing books; determining
if, and 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 most hearings are open to the public, a committee may vote to close a hearing
for a reason specifically stated in House rules. Representatives typically make
opening statements at the beginning of a hearing; then witnesses are introduced and
may be 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 individual committees determine the order in
which their members will question witnesses and may allow extended questioning
by committee members or staff.
Following a hearing, committee staff may prepare a summary of testimony, draft
additional questions for the day’s witnesses, and begin to ready the hearing
transcripts for printing and publishing to the Web. Transcripts generally are printed,
along with supplemental materials approved by the committee, although printing is
In troduction ......................................................1
Coverage and Organization of the Report...........................1
Hearings in the Committee Process................................2
Types of Hearings.............................................4
Preparation for Hearings............................................6
Sources of Outside Assistance ...................................6
Choosing and Inviting Witnesses.................................10
Advance Written Testimony....................................11
Statements of Non-Governmental Witnesses.......................12
Format and Order of Witness Testimony...........................12
Subpoenas and Depositions ....................................13
Publicity and Media Considerations..............................14
Closing a Hearing.............................................19
Introducing Witnesses and Administering the Oath..................21
Oral Testimony of Witnesses....................................21
Five-Minute Rule for Questioning Witnesses.......................21
Extended Questioning of Witnesses..............................22
Order of Questioning Witnesses.................................23
Relevancy of Debate and Questions ..............................23
Questioning by Other Than Committee or Subcommittee Members .....23
Related CRS Products.........................................26
Hearings in the House of Representatives:
A Guide for Preparation and Procedure
Coverage and Organization of the 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
elsewhere within the United States. 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; 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
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
this report gives examples from 109th Congress committee rules.2 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.
1 This report was originally written by the late Richard C. Sachs, formerly a Specialist in
American National Government at CRS. The listed author updated the report and is
available to answer questions concerning its contents.
2 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,thst
In addition to House and committee rules, this report covers common committee
practices in planning and holding hearings. Given that each committee has its own
rules and practices, hearing procedures may differ significantly among committees.
Members and staff needing comprehensive information on the hearing practices 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 2, “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
!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 3, “Conducting Hearings,” covers how a hearing is held. Among other
matters, it discusses:
!closing a hearing to the public;
!the rights of witnesses;
!opening statements by Members;
!introducing and swearing in witnesses;
!oral testimony by witnesses; and
!the question and answer period following oral testimony.
Finally, Section 4, “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 primary information-gathering technique committees use in
policy making and oversight. Hearings may be held on issues in the absence of
specific legislation, but many examine on particular legislative proposals. In either
case, hearings serve a variety of purposes. 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.
For a number of reasons, house committees act only on a minority of the
measures introduced and referred to them. For instance, a committee often receives
many proposals in each major policy area within its jurisdiction, but ultimately may
choose to act on only a few measures in each such area, if any. Committees usually
send a bill to an appropriate 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, or political factors, among other reasons.
When a committee or a subcommittee considers a measure, it generally takes four
actions. When 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 having relevant policy expertise and
soliciting their written evaluation of the proposal. 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 has been
noted by congressional scholar Walter J. Oleszek:
The decision to hold a hearing is often a critical point in the life of a bill.
Measures brought to the floor without first undergoing the scrutiny of hearings
will likely receive sharp criticism.... The importance of the committee stage is
based on the assumption that the experts — the committee members — carefully
scrutinize a proposal, and hearings provide a demonstrable record of that3
Third, a committee will meet to “mark up,” or recommend amendments to the
legislation, based in part on information received at hearings. Markup is the critical
stage where the committee decides how the language of the bill should appear when
it is presented to the House for consideration. While a bill can be subsequently
amended on the House floor, committees have the important prerogative of shaping
legislation before consideration by the full chamber.
3 Walter J. Oleszek, Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process, 6th ed. (Washington:
CQ Press, 2004), p. 93.
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
passed. The report also may summarize any relevant hearings that were held. This
reporting requirement may be waived.4
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 five-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.5 (Sometimes one hearing has dual purposes, such as both 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, clauses 2(k)(3) and (5) contain 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 by witnesses with diverse backgrounds, including
Members of Congress and other government officials, representatives of interest
groups and academia, and from additional citizens affected by the proposal.
4 For more information on committee reports see CRS Report 98-169, House Committee
Reports: Required Contents, by Judy Schneider.
5 Senate committees also hold hearings on approving treaties, and on confirming presidential
nominees, in fulfillment of the Senate’s advice and consent responsibility under the
Constitution. Because the House does not have this constitutional duty, its committees do
not hold confirmation hearings.
Oversight hearings review or study a law, an issue or an activity, often focusing
on the quality of federal programs and the performance of government officials.
Hearings 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 government operations. On March 16, 2005, for instance, the House
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the Committee on Science held an
oversight hearing on the future of aeronautics at NASA. 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, select committees have been created to conduct investigations.6 At other
times the standing committees have investigated matters within their jurisdictions.
Investigative hearings may lead to legislation to address any problems uncovered.
Judicial proceedings may precede or follow congressional inquiries.
Committee hearings are mostly held in Washington, but sometimes a committee
will decide there is a need to hold a hearing elsewhere. Field hearings may be held
for a variety of reasons. A field hearing brings Congress to the people. A committee
can hear from witnesses who might find it inconvenient or be unable to travel to
Washington to testify. A field hearing also can present information to citizens who
are directly affected by a government program or issue. It can enhance a committee’s
oversight activities by providing the opportunity to evaluate programs “on site.” It
can orchestrate public support for, and enhance the visibility of an issue.
A field hearing can reinforce a committee chairman or other committee
member’s relationship with his or her constituents. It can provide an opportunity for
local, regional, and sometimes national media coverage. Field hearings are often
held in a geographic area where the subject matter of the hearing is particularly
relevant. For example, on August 13, 2005, the Subcommittee on Energy and
Mineral Resources of the House Committee on Resources held a field hearing in Port
Fourchon, Louisiana on the benefits of offshore oil and gas development.
Regulations in the House forbid official travel for political or campaign
purposes. Field hearings cannot be employed for explicitly political or electoral
purposes. The formal authority for field hearings is implicit in House Rule XI, clause
2, which states in part that a committee is authorized to “sit at such times and places
within the United States, whether the House is in session, has recessed, or has
6 For more information on select committees see CRS Report RS21243, Ad Hoc Select
Committees: Use in the House of Representatives, by Judy Schneider.
adjourned, and to hold such hearings as it considers necessary.” House rules do not
otherwise distinguish field hearings from those held in Washington.
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, evaluate the policy matters or the
political message it wishes to communicate, and then determine whether a hearing
is the best method of achieving its goals. A hearing agenda is influenced by several
factors, including timing of the hearing, the salience of issues to the nation, the
importance of policies to interest groups, and matters of significance to the President,
House leaders, and other Representatives. Programs under a committee’s jurisdiction
that need to be reauthorized generally receive committee scrutiny, as do instances of
reported waste, fraud, or abuse.
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 justify the allocation of limited resources to
a hearing, or even to find time in its crowded schedule.
In order 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. Given that most hearings focus on 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
!suggesting witnesses and drafting questions for Members to ask
!making its experts available on a nonpartisan basis as witnesses;
!preparing studies or documentation for inclusion in the hearing
!supplying information on program accomplishments; and
!evaluating legislative proposals and discussing alternative
The Government Accountability 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. 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
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 five-year budgetary costs of legislation;
!tracking congressional budget actions against targets established in
budget resolutions (scorekeeping); estimating costs to state, local,
and tribal governments of carrying out mandates to be imposed by
!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 budget; and
!preparing an annual report on spending and revenue options for
reducing the federal deficit.
Nongovernmental 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 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 consulting policy experts and special interest
groups, 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
Administration. Committees may also accept temporary services of fellows.
Regulations governing consultants, detailees, and fellows are contained in the
Committees’ Congressional Handbook.7
The services of individual consultants must be intermittent or temporary, not to
exceed 12 months 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 are then submitted for approval to the
Committee on House Administration. Contracts for services which are “the regular
and normal duties” of committee staff will not be approved by the Committee on
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 cannot 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
Committee on House Administration. Written approval of the Committee on House
Administration is needed before an employee may be detailed.
In the 109th Congress, a committee generally may use detailees from government
agencies on a reimbursable or a non-reimbursable basis. The total number of non-
reimbursable detailees, at one time, must remain at or below 10% of the committee’s
staff ceiling as established by the Speaker. Committees must reimburse agencies for
detailees above this limit, although a committee must reimburse the Government
Printing Office for all detailees.
The House Office of The 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.
7 U.S. Congress, Committee on House Administration, Committees’ Congressional
Handbook, available online at [http://cha.house.gov/services/committeehandbook.htm].
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 19, 2005, the Committee on Financial
Services, and the Committee on Resources held a joint hearing on improving land
title grant procedures for Native Americans.8 Sometimes, House and Senate panels
hold a joint hearing. For instance, on July 24, 2003, subcommittees of the House
Committee on Science and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation held a joint hearing on commercial human space flight.
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. 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
House committees may hold hearings at any time, except during a joint session9
or meeting of the House and Senate (House Rule XI, clause 2(i)). Any Member may
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
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
8 Joint hearings in the House are also commonly conducted by two different subcommittees
of the same standing committee.
9 A joint session of Congress occurs upon the adoption by both chambers of a concurrent
resolution. The House and Senate meet in joint session primarily to hear remarks by the
President. The President’s annual State of the Union address is an example. A joint
meeting is held when both chambers declare themselves in recess, by resolution or
unanimous consent. Congress holds joint meetings to receive addresses from foreign
dignitaries and to commemorate events.
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 may set hearing
dates only with the approval of the chairman of the full committee, in order to assure
availability of meeting rooms, and to avoid scheduling conflicts. 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 of HIR.
Often a committee sends announcements of a hearing to all its members, both
well in advance of, and immediately before, the hearing. Some committees also
require that particular information be sent to their members or made available to the
public. For instance, the rules of the House Committee on Financial Services direct
the chairman to provide members of the committee a concise summary of the subject
of the hearing at least three days in advance. The House Committee on Resources
provides its members with a tentative witness list, and a memorandum explaining the
subject of the hearing, as soon as practicable after the announcement 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 a hearing convenes.
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 these Members 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 typically 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 may 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 material from the media relating to the issue. Often a staff contact
is indicated. Staff will sometimes meet with witnesses before a hearing to answer
questions and to review procedure.
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 of travel
expenses incurred by a witness is described as “an extraordinary measure.” 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 for Members and
employees of the House, and actual expenses for travel, however, no per diem is paid
to witnesses who are “summoned at the place of the examination” (House Rule XI,
Advance Written Testimony
A 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 Financial Services requires “ sufficient copies”
of written testimony two business days in advance, including a copy in electronic
format. The Committee on Rules asks for testimony 24 hours in advance. The
Committees on House Administration, Small Business, Ways and Means, and
Education and the Workforce ordinarily require testimony 48 hours before a hearing.
The Committee on Small Business calls for 100 copies of testimony, with one copy
to furnished directly to the ranking minority member of the committee. 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 48 hours in advance in written and electronic form.
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 assert
their right to receive 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
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 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, so as to assist members in evaluating
the witness’s views and remarks. The rules of the 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 Committee on Ways and Means,
which requires a hearing witness 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. According
to one traditional format, a witness summarizes his or her written 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. The usual practice in this
case is for all witnesses on the panel to make statements, then for committee
members to pose questions to the panel. Some observers believe that this format
produces a more stimulating debate and more effectively elicits pertinent
information. Committees have experimented with several other formats for gathering
information, which may not always be considered formal 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 or a high-ranking executive
branch official will generally testify before other witnesses. 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 witness.
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. If, 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)(1)(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 Energy and Commerce, allow the chair to issue a
subpoena during any adjournment of the House for more than three days. The House
Committee on Energy and 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 subcommittees, 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. The
rules of the Committee on Small Business 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 issuing 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 of Congress 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, committee staff may 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.
Given that 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 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
explanation of each measure under consideration, and a comparison of all measures
to be discussed, are useful. Background material might include relevant statutes and
regulations, court decisions, press articles, agency reports, academic studies, and a
chronology of major events. In order 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. The goal may include publicizing an
issue or problem to focus attention on it. 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 a measure.
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
!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 not be used.
!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 media.
!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
unnecessarily obstruct coverage by other media.
!Television cameras must operate from fixed positions and cannot
unnecessarily 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 in session.
!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
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
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 Television 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 inform 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 the responsibility of the 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 use a room of another committee. In the past, it
has also been possible to use 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
Many administrative details concern the physical setup of the hearing room.
These may include arranging furniture and equipment; setting up items on the dais
such as nameplates, writing materials, 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; and arranging for
turning on audio consoles, microphones, and lighting. Sufficient copies of relevant
materials, such as Member and witness statements, should be provided for
distribution at the hearing.
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 uniformed or plain clothes officers 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 provide security for protected witnesses, such as
the Attorney General and other high-ranking government officials.
A field hearing presents planning considerations different from those for
Washington hearings. These include identifying the city, district, or state and the
specific location, for example, a federal building, school, or private venue, where the
hearing will be held. It may be necessary for staff to travel to the field location a day
or more before the hearing to ensure that arrangements are to the committee’s
satisfaction, including the specific layout of tables and chairs for committee
members, witnesses, and the public, and the availability of a sound system and the
technicians to operate it. Security personnel also need to be arranged.
When field hearings involve oversight of a federal agency, it may be possible,
under a committee’s oversight authority, to request that the agency provide
transportation for committee members and staff. Usually, such requests require a
letter from the committee chairman to the agency head. Expenses incurred by a
Representative or staff aide attending a field hearing, including transportation, meals
and incidentals such as parking charges, are reimbursable by the committee holding
the hearing. Automobile rentals are also reimbursable, provided that the car is used
only to transport Members or staff authorized by the committee for travel.
Regulations printed in the House Administration Committee’s Committees’
Congressional Handbook cover several matters specific to field hearings.
Committees are authorized to rent commercial space when public space is not
available or suitable. If a committee has to lease private space for a field hearing, it
may be asked to provide a certificate of insurance. The House does not carry a
private insurance policy and generally does not permit the use of committee funds to
pay for a private insurance policy. House regulations also stipulate that the Office
of Official Reporters to Committees will either send an official reporter or arrange
for a stenographic reporter from a commercial firm at the location of the field
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 and relevant materials
assembled in a briefing book. Briefings may have been prepared for committee
members, staff, witnesses, and the press. Administrative issues, such as arranging
for an official reporter, have been attended to. As a result of thorough and careful
preparation, many hearings proceed without surprises. Committees must, however,
occasionally 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 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 Rules Committee 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 subcommittees.
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. If,
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
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
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.” In order to close all or part of a hearing, a
committee must vote by roll call in open session and with a majority present. When
a quorum is present for taking testimony, however, 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 specific day and on
one subsequent day of hearings. The Committees on Appropriations, Armed
Services, and Intelligence, however, 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 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 provided 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, with a majority present, it determines that the evidence will not have
these effects on this person. In either case, the committee will give the person an
opportunity to appear as a witness, and will take requests from the individual to
subpoena additional witnesses. In other instances, the chair receives, and the
committee disposes of, requests to subpoena witnesses.
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, the committee 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
In order 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.
Not all committees allow opening statements by all committee members. The
rules of the 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
Where opening statements are permitted, they usually occur under the five-
minute rule which allows a member to speak for five minutes when recognized by
the chair; this is not always the case, however. While the Committee on Energy and
Commerce chair and ranking minority member (or designees) may speak for five
minutes, other committee members are limited to three minutes each. The
Committee on Science 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
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 Committee on Resources, for
instance, permits a committee member to introduce a witness who is a constituent.
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, the chairman may require testimony of witnesses to be given under oath
or affirmation. Further, the rules of a few committees prescribe a particular oath if
witnesses are sworn. The rules of the 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 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
Committee 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 from the
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 five-minute rule, committees can determine how to
dispose of any additional time. Some committees’ rules specify a procedure for using
additional time. For example, the rules of the House Committee on International
Relations provide for a second round of questioning under the five-minute rule,
while rules of the Committee on Agriculture allow the chair to limit the time for
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)(2)(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
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 member may
designate an equal number of members from each party to question witnesses, and
that unless a majority of the committee or subcommittee determines otherwise, staff
may not interrogate witnesses.
The source of the authority for extended questioning differs among committees.
On the 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 Committee on Veterans’
Affairs, the chair, after consultation with the ranking minority member, may
designate members or authorize staff to conduct extended questioning.
Further, a few committees specify when any extended questioning may occur.
For instance, the chair of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs cannot recognize a
member for extended questioning until all members have had a chance to question
witnesses under the five minute rule. The rules of the House Committee on
Government Reform allow extended questioning at the discretion of the chair only
after all members have had an opportunity 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
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)). While this rule is generally
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 relevant 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 Committee on
Agriculture, members are limited in debate to the subject matter under consideration,
unless permission is granted by unanimous consent to extend remarks beyond the
subject. In addition, questions put to witnesses must be germane to the matter under
Questioning by Other Than 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 chairman in consultation with the ranking 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 Committee on Appropriations make explicit that the chair
and ranking minority member may sit as members of all subcommittees and may
participate in subcommittee work. Their participation may include voting.
By contrast, the 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 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)). A committee may, however, 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 may be asked to prepare a summary of testimony.
The summary may 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 may 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)). A member of the
reporting committee may, however, 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 publication 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 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, a majority being present (House Rule XI,
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 requests. The Appropriations Committee requires
that a transcript of all hearings on the federal budget as a whole be printed and
distributed to Members.
Each committee may establish procedures for correcting its transcripts, and
some committees have rules to expedite this process. The Committee on Ways and
Means, for example, requires each witness to correct and 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 the chair determines that a reasonable time has
elapsed and that further delay would impede the legislative process.
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 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 Committee on Small
Business expressly state that the proposed testimony of witnesses must be provided
to the public in electronic form. Since 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 (P.L. 601, 79th Congress, 60
Stat. 812), 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 required 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
Related CRS Products
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CRS Report RL30244. The Committee Markup Process in the House of
Representatives, by Judy Schneider.
CRS Report RS20794. The Committee System in the U.S. Congress, by Judy
CRS Report RS22018. Committee System; Rules Changes in the House, 109th
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 Thomas
CRS Report 98-488. House Committee Hearings: Preparation, by Thomas P. Carr.
CRS Report 98-339. House Committee Hearings: Scheduling and Notification, by
Thomas P. Carr.
CRS Report RL32794. House Committee Funding Requests and Authorizations,
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 Elizabeth Rybicki.
CRS Report 98-317. Types of Committee Hearings, by Thomas P. Carr.
Aberbach, Joel D. Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional
Oversight. Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1990.
Bond, Jon R. and Richard Fleisher, eds. Polarized Politics: Congress and the
President in a Polarized Era. Washington: CQ Press, 2000.
DeGregorio, Christine. “Leadership Approaches in Congressional Committee
Hearings.” Western Political Quarterly, vol. 45 (December 1992), pp. 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
Krehbiel, Keith. Information and Legislative Organization. Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan Press, 1991.
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, 6th ed. Washington: CQ Press, 2004, pp. 76-109.
Schneier, Edward V. and Bertram Gross. “Committee Action or Inaction.” In
Congress Today. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, pp. 381-409.
Unekis, Joseph K. “Committee Hearings.” In Donald C. Bacon, Roger H. Davidson,
and Morton Keller, eds., The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, 4
vols., pp. 423-426. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995, vol. 1, pp.423-426.
U.S. General Accountability Office. Office of Special Investigations. Investigators’
Guide to Sources of Information. Washington: GPO, April 1997. (Available
online at [http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/soi/contents.htm].)
Wells, William G. Jr. “Hearings and Testimony.” In Working with Congress: A
Practical Guide for Scientists and Engineers, 2nd ed. Washington: American
Association for the Advancement of Science and Carnegie Commission on
Science, Technology, and Government, 1996, pp. 87-98.