House Resolutions of Inquiry
House Resolutions of Inquiry
Updated November 25, 2008
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
House Resolutions of Inquiry
The resolution of inquiry is a simple House resolution that seeks factual
information from the executive branch. Such resolutions are given privileged status
under House rules and may be considered at any time after being properly reported
or discharged from committee. Such resolutions apply only to requests for facts —
not opinions — within an Administration’s control. This report explains the history,
procedure, specific uses of resolutions of inquiry, and notes recent increases in their
The examples in this report demonstrate that, historically, even when a
resolution of inquiry is reported adversely from a committee and tabled on the floor,
it has frequently led to the release of a substantial amount of information from the
Administration. Data from more recent Congresses suggest a potential change in the
use and efficacy of these privileged resolutions.
For other CRS reports regarding legislative techniques for obtaining information
from the executive branch, see CRS Report 95-464, Investigative Oversight: An
Introduction to the Law, Practice and Procedure of Congressional Inquiry, by
Morton Rosenberg, and CRS Report RL30240, Congressional Oversight Manual, by
Frederick M. Kaiser, Walter J. Oleszek, T. J. Halstead, Morton Rosenberg, and Todd
This report will be updated as events warrant.
In troduction ......................................................1
Origins of Practice.................................................2
Committee and Floor Procedures......................................5
Discharging a Committee...........................................16
Military Operations in Vietnam......................................18
Forcing Other Legislative Actions....................................21
Mexico Rescue Package............................................24
Iraq’s Declaration on WMD........................................25
House Resolutions of Inquiry
Congress has many techniques for obtaining documents from the executive
branch, including simple requests, committee investigations, subpoenas, and holding
executive officials in contempt. One procedure, used only in the House of
Representatives, is the resolution of inquiry, which “is a simple resolution making
a direct request or demand of the President or the head of an executive department
to furnish the House of Representatives with specific factual information in the
possession of the executive branch.”2 It has been the practice to use the verbs
“request” in asking for information from the President and “direct” when addressing
Resolutions of inquiry are often much more effective in obtaining information
from the executive branch than one would expect from viewing committee and floor
action. Administrations have often released a substantial amount of information,
leading the committee of jurisdiction to conclude that the dispute is moot and it is
therefore appropriate to report the resolution adversely and table it on the floor. As
examples in this report demonstrate, the sponsor of a resolution will often support an
adverse report and tabling action because the Administration has substantially
complied with the resolution.
There is no counterpart in current Senate parliamentary practice for resolutions
of inquiry, although there are precedents dating to the end of the 19th century and an4
effort in 1926. Nothing prevents the Senate from passing such resolutions, but
apparently the Senate is satisfied with the leverage it has through other legislative
1 This report was written by Louis Fisher, former senior specialist in Separation of Powers
at the Congressional Research Service. The author listed updated and added to the report
and is available to answer questions concerning its contents.
2 U.S. Congress, House, Deschler’s Precedents of the United States House of
Representatives, H. Doc. 94-661, 94th Cong., 2nd sess., vol. 7, ch. 24, § 8. For a current
summary of House procedures for resolutions of inquiry, see William Holmes Brown,
Charles W. Johnson, House Practice, A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, and Procedures ofthst
the House, 108 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003), pp. 817-822.
3 DeAlva Stanwood Alexander, History and Procedure of the House of Representatives,
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), p. 360.
4 U.S. Congress, Senate, Riddick’s Senate Procedure, S. Doc. 101-28, 101st Cong., 2nd sess.,
(Washington: GPO, 1992), p. 799. [Hereafter cited as Riddick’s Senate Procedure.] See
also: Congressional Record, vol. 67, January 23, 1926, pp. 2658-59, 2661-62, 2663.
means, including the nomination process and Senate “holds.”5 Unlike the House, the
Senate has no special practices for expediting consideration through committee
discharge or non-debatable motions, and resolutions are not generally privileged for
Origins of Practice
From its very first years, Congress has requested information from the executive
branch to further legislative inquiries. Initially, these requests did not depend on a
House rule. They were made pursuant to the implied authority of Congress to
investigate the executive branch. For example, in 1790 the House investigated the
receipts and expenditures of public moneys during Robert Morris’s term as7
Superintendent of Finance during the Continental Congress. Congress sought
documents from the executive branch in 1790 to judge the size of an annuity to be8
given Baron Frederick von Steuben. As part of its 1792 investigation into the
military losses suffered by the troops of Major General Arthur St. Clair, the House9
received a substantial number of documents from the War Department.
These early investigations differed in scope and procedure from the House
resolution of inquiry, which depends not on Congress operating as the “Grand
Inquest” but by a special rule that grants privileged status to a lawmaker’s motion to
obtain documents from the executive branch. Early House rules contained no10
procedure for requesting information from the President or cabinet officials.
Throughout its first two decades, however, the House made repeated requests to the
President and departmental heads for information, sometimes to be returned to
Congress, and sometimes to the states. For example, on January 5, 1797, the House
took up this resolution (involving the concurrence of both chambers):
Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of
America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be
requested to give information to the several States who were, by the
Commissioners appointed to settle accounts between the United States and the
5 See CRS Report RL31685, Proposals to Reform “Holds” in the Senate, by Walter J.
Oleszek, and CRS Report 98-712, “Holds” in the Senate, by Walter J. Oleszek.
6 Riddick’s Senate Procedure, p. 1204.
7 U.S. Congress, Annals of Congress, vol. 1, February 8, 1790, p. 1168. [hereafter cited as
Annals of Congress.] Annals of Congress, vol. 1, February 10, 1790, p. 1204. Annals of
Congress, vol. 2, March 19, 1790, p. 1514. Annals of Congress, vol. 2, February 16, 1791,
8 U.S. Congress, Annals of Congress, vol. 2, April 6, 1790, p. 1572. Annals of Congress,
vol. 2, April 19, 1790, p. 1584. See also: 6 Stat. 2.
9 Annals of Congress, vol. 3, Appendix, pp. 1052-59, 1106-13, 1310-17.
10 House rules adopted in 1789 made no mention of legislative procedures for obtaining
executive documents; U.S. Congress, House, Journal of the House of Representatives, 1stst
Cong., 1 sess., vol. 1, April 2, 1789, p. 6. Nor were such procedures in place in 1794;
Annals of Congress, vol. 4, November 13, 1794, pp. 875-82.
individual States, found indebted to the United States of the several sums in11
which they were so found indebted....
This type of resolution differed from the resolution of inquiry, because it lacked
privileged status under House rules. Similarly, in 1811, the House considered a
resolution requesting the President to lay before the House “a list of the whole
number of persons impressed, seized, and otherwise unlawfully taken from on board
vessels sailing under the United States’ flag on the high seas or rivers, in ports and
In 1820, the House clarified its rules for requesting information from the
executive branch. There was concern that the House had not been acting with
sufficient consideration before making such requests. In offering an amendment to
House rules on December 12, 1820, Representative Charles Rich noted that “six
clerks had been constantly employed, from the close of the last session to the present
time, in collecting the materials to enable one of the departments to answer a call at
the last session.”13 Rich offered this change to the rules:
A proposition, requesting information from the President of the United
States, or directing it to be furnished by the Secretary of either of the Executive
Departments, or the Postmaster General, shall lie upon the table one day for
consideration, unless otherwise ordered, with the unanimous consent of the14
On the following day, the House agreed to Rich’s proposition.15 Two years
later, the House made another change to its rules governing resolutions of inquiry,
requiring not merely a day’s delay but also committee consideration: “And shall be
taken up for consideration on the next day, in the order in which they were presented,
immediately after reports are called for from select committees, and, when adopted,16
the Clerk shall cause the same to be delivered.” The House rule now read:
A proposition, requesting information from the President of the United
States, or directing it to be furnished by the head of either of the Executive
Departments, or by the Postmaster General, shall lie on the table one day for
consideration, unless otherwise ordered by the unanimous consent of the House;
and all such propositions shall be taken up for consideration in the order they
were presented, immediately after reports are called for from select committees;17
and, when adopted, the Clerk shall cause the same to be delivered.
11 Annals of Congress, vol. 6, January 4. 1797, p. 1797.
12 Annals of Congress, vol. 23, November 26, 1811, pp. 370-373. The House agreed to this
13 Annals of Congress, vol. 37, December 12, 1820, p. 608.
14 Ibid., p. 607.
15 Ibid., p. 641.
16 Annals of Congress, vol. 38, January 21, 1822, p. 748.
17 Ibid., p. 756. The language on this page has “when appointed” rather than “when
This language survived until 1879, when the House Rules Committee reported
language to eliminate the need for lawmakers to seek unanimous consent from the
chamber in order to seek executive documents. Speaker Samuel J. Randall explained
that it was “very seldom that it is in order for a member to offer a resolution calling
for information; that is the difficulty. Any one member at any time may prevent a
call for information.”18
Granting this advantage, Representative Roger Q. Mills objected to the
procedure for committee referral: “What is the necessity for having a resolution
calling for information from one of the Executive Departments referred to a
committee? What is the use of my offering a resolution of that kind and having it
referred to a committee and there buried?”19 Representative James A. Garfield
explained that the purpose of committee referral was to avoid the “constant danger
of gentlemen upon this floor duplicating calls for information. Some one may want
some information and offer a resolution calling for it and it passes by unanimous
consent, and the same thing may have been asked already by somebody else and
nobody has paid any attention to the fact that the same thing has already been called
for.” Garfield thought it better that legislative requests for information “be referred
to the committees, in order that they may not be duplicated so as to put the
Departments to the necessity of employing a large number of clerks for a useless
The House Committee on Rules recommended language that gave committees
of jurisdiction full discretion over resolutions referred to them: “Under this call
resolutions for information from the Executive Departments of the Government may
be offered for reference to the appropriate committees, such committees to have the
right to report at any time.”21 The language “under this call” referred to a procedure
that required resolutions calling for executive information to be offered only during
the morning hour of every Monday.22
Representative Mills objected to this procedure, pointing out that a resolution
calling for information might be “of a partisan character,” because a member of the
minority wanted information in the possession of an executive officer of the majority
party in the House. Did anyone believe, he asked, “that such a resolution would get
out of any committee against the vote of a majority of its members, when the design
of the resolution was, perhaps, to expose the malfeasance of some officer belonging
to the party of the majority?”23 Representative William H. Calkins found Garfield’s
adopted,” as originally proposed. “Appointed” appears to be a typographical error.
18 Congressional Record, vol. 9, May 1, 1879, p. 1018.
argument about duplication unpersuasive. If a lawmaker asked for information that
an executive department had already made available to another lawmaker, “it would
be a full answer to the resolution for such Department to reply that the information
had already been given, and the Department would not be required to go over it
As to Mills’s argument that a committee could use its majority party power to
block any action on a resolution, Speaker Randall noted that members of the majority
party could block floor action on the resolution, because “a single member of that
majority could object to it.” Mills conceded that point, but said “there would be a
Representative John H. Baker thought that too much power had been centered
in the committees of jurisdiction. Upon receiving a resolution requesting
information, it should be “imperative for the committee to report either for or against
the resolution, so as to allow the question to come before the House for its
determination.” Speaker Randall considered that “a very good suggestion” that did
not occur to the Rules Committee.26 Representative Harry White sharpened Baker’s
proposal by requiring the committee to report “within one week.”27 Baker’s
amendment, as modified, was agreed to, resulting in this language: “And such
committees shall report thereon within one week thereafter.”28
Committee and Floor Procedures
Under House Rule XIII, clause 7, a Member may address a resolution of inquiry
“to the head of an executive department.” The resolution is privileged and may be
considered at any time after it is properly reported or discharged from committee. If
the resolution is not reported to the House within 14 legislative days after its
introduction, a motion to discharge the committee from its further consideration is
privileged. Should the committee or committees of referral report (or be discharged
under a time limit placed by the Speaker) within the 14 day period, only a designee
of the committee can move to proceed to the consideration of the resolution on the
Typically, the House debates a resolution of inquiry for not more than one hour
before voting on it. When a committee reports a resolution, the time for
consideration is generally given to the committee chairman, who may decide to grant
half the time to the ranking member of the committee or subcommittee. The deadline
for a committee to report was extended from one week to 14 legislative days in
28 Ibid., p. 1019.
1983.29 In calculating the days available for committee consideration, the first day
and the last day are not counted.30
A resolution of inquiry is usually referred to the committee that has jurisdiction
over the subject matter, but on a number of occasions two or more committees have
been involved in responding to a resolution of inquiry. After a resolution of inquiry
is introduced and referred to committee, the committee sends the resolution to the
Administration for action, requesting a timely response to allow the committee to act
within the deadline for a committee report.
While waiting for information from the executive branch, the committee may
decide to act on the resolution in the form in which it was referred or consider
amendments to it. The committee then votes to report the resolution favorably or
adversely. It may also decide not to report at all, forcing the Member who introduced
the resolution to make a motion to discharge the committee. In most cases the
committee reports, either positively or negatively. If the committee concludes that
the Administration’s response is in substantial compliance with the resolution, it may
offer a motion on the House floor to table the resolution on the ground that the
congressional interest has been satisfied.
When a resolution of inquiry is reported from committee, the chairman of the
committee calls up the resolution and becomes floor manager, either to pass the
resolution or table it. If the committee decides not to report, the sponsor of the
resolution can call up the resolution as privileged business.
The privileged status of the resolution applies only to requests for facts within
the Administration’s control and not for opinions or investigations.31 In 1905, a
Member of the House asked unanimous consent for a resolution that requested the
Secretary of the Interior “to furnish to Congress a report on the progress of the
investigation of the black sands of the Pacific slope ... and for his opinion as to
whether or not this investigation should be continued.”32 Another Member pointed
out that the Geological Survey, in a letter to the Senate, had already reported on the
result of the investigation.33 Because of a possible duplication of printing, objection
was heard to the resolution of inquiry. The sponsor of the resolution asked: “Is not
this a privileged resolution?” Speaker Joseph G. Cannon replied, “The Chair thinks
the first part of the resolution privileged. The latter part is not privileged; and that
destroys the privilege of the whole resolution.”34
29 U.S. Congress, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of
Representatives, H.Doc. 108-241, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 2005), §864.
30 Asher C. Hinds, Hinds’ Precedents of the United States House of Representatives, 5 vols.
(Washington: GPO, 1907), vol. 3, §1858.
31 See clause 7 of House Rule XIII.
32 Congressional Record, vol. 40, December 19, 1905, pp. 591-592.
33 Ibid., p. 592.
34 Ibid., p. 593.
Resolutions of inquiry are directed “to the head of an executive department.”
There have been parliamentary challenges to resolutions that are directed to executive
officials who are not considered the head of an executive department. In 1891, a
Member offered a resolution of inquiry to the Regents of the Smithsonian Institution
for information regarding expenditures of the National Zoological Park. The
following dialogue occurred between Representative Benjamin A. Enloe and Speaker
Charles F. Crisp:
The SPEAKER. The rule applies only to resolutions of inquiry addressed
to the heads of Executive Departments.
Mr. ENLOE. On that point, Mr. Speaker, I desire to say that the reason
why the resolution was framed as it is and also the reason why I consider this as
presenting a question of privilege is because it is addressed to the Regents of the
Smithsonian Institution, who are made trustees for the disbursement of this fund
and for the organization of this park and are not under the control of any
Department of the Government.
The SPEAKER. “Head of Executive Departments” is the language of the
Mr. ENLOE. I understand; but the Regents of the Smithsonian are not
under the jurisdiction of any Department of the Government.
A MEMBER. And consequently do not come under the rule.
Mr. ENLOE. They are virtually the head of a Department, and I should
think they come within the meaning of the rule.
The SPEAKER. They are not heads of any Executive Department.
. . .
Mr. ENLOW. Well, Mr. Speaker, I believe it is privileged; but, instead of
arguing that proposition, I will ask unanimous consent that the resolution be now35
considered by the House.
Objection was heard.36 Following Enlow’s resolution, a Member announced
that he had a resolution reported back from the Committee on Commerce, asking for
certain information from the Interstate Commerce Commission. Again Speaker
Crisp ruled: “The Chair thinks it is not privileged. The Interstate Commerce
Commission is not the head of a department.”37
There are cases when the Chair rules against a resolution of inquiry because it
is not directed to an executive department, but the Member prevails through a
unanimous consent motion. In 1904, a member called up a resolution of inquiry to
obtain information from the Civil Service Commission. After the Chair ruled that
the resolution was not a privileged matter because it did not call upon “the head of
Department, but upon the Civil Service Commission,” the Member asked unanimous
consent for its immediate consideration. There was no objection, “and the resolution38
was accordingly considered and adopted.”
35 Congressional Record, vol. 22, June 27, 1891, pp. 1874-1875.
36 Ibid., p. 1875.
38 Annals of Congress, vol. 38, March 12, 1904, p. 3181.
Although the President is not “the head of an executive department,” resolutions
of inquiry are directed to the President without the parliamentary challenge that the
President is not technically a departmental head.
Some House resolutions of inquiry give the Administration discretion in
providing factual information to Congress, particularly when they are directed to the
President. In 1811, a resolution requested from the President, “as far as practicable,”
a list of Americans impressed by other countries, “with such other information on39
this subject as he in his judgment may think proper to communicate.” In the same
year, a resolution requested from the President information relative to the situation40
in the Indiana Territory, “which may not be improper to be communicated.” Early
in 1812, a resolution requested the President to furnish the House with copies of
instructions given to the U.S. Minister at London, regarding the impressment of
American seamen into the naval service of Great Britain, “excepting so much as it41
may be improper to disclose, on account of any pending negotiation.”
In 1876, the House passed a resolution requesting President Ulysses S. Grant to
inform the House “if, in his opinion, it is not incompatible with the public interest,”
whether since March 4, 1869 (the date his term began) any executive offices, acts,
or duties had been performed at a distance from “the seat of Government established
by law, and for how long a period at any one time, and in what part of the United
States; also, whether any public necessity existed for such performance, and, if so,
of what character, and how far the performance of such executive offices, acts, or
duties, at such distance from the seat of Government established by law was in
compliance with the act of Congress of the 16th day of July, 1790.” This resolution
was not taken up as a resolution of inquiry. Instead, the rules were suspended by the42
necessary two-thirds majority and the resolution adopted.
President Grant could have withheld information on the ground stated in the
resolution, that disclosure was not compatible with the public interest. He chose to
set forth constitutional reasons for declining the information. First, he said he could
find nothing in the Constitution to justify congressional interest as to where the
President discharged official acts and duties. What the House could require in terms
of information from the executive branch was limited “to what is necessary for the
proper discharge of its powers of legislation or of impeachment,” neither of which,
he said, applied. Asking where executive acts are performed and at what distance
39 Annals of Congress, vol. 23, November 26, 1811, p. 370.
40 Ibid., p. 582.
41 Ibid., p. 779.
42 Congressional Record, vol. 4, April 3, 1876, p. 2158.
from the seat of Government “does not necessarily belong to the province of
legislation. It does not profess to be asked for that object.”43
Second, if the House sought the information to assist in the impeachment
process, “... it is asked in derogation of an inherent natural right, recognized in this
country by a constitutional guaranty which protects every citizen, the President as
well as the humblest in the land, from being made a witness against himself.”44 This
position was not well taken. Other Presidents have made it clear that if the House
sought information as part of impeachment proceedings, the information would be
supplied. In denying the House the papers it requested on the Jay Treaty, President
George Washington stated that the only ground on which the House might have
legitimately requested the documents was impeachment, “which the resolution has
not expressed.”45 President James Polk recognized that the power of impeachment
gives the House “... the right to investigate the conduct of all public officers under
the Government. This is cheerfully admitted. In such a case the safety of the
Republic would be the supreme law, and the power of the House in the pursuit of this
object would penetrate into the most secret recesses of the Executive Department.
It could command the attendance of any and every agent of the Government, and
compel them to produce all papers, public or private, official or unofficial, and to
testify on oath to all facts within their knowledge.”46
Third, Grant pointed out that previous Presidents found it necessary to discharge
official business outside the nation’s capital, and that “during such absences I did not
neglect or forego the obligations of the duties of my office.”47 To his letter to the
House he appended a study on the number of days other Presidents had conducted
official business outside the nation’s capital.
Fourth, with regard to the statute of July 16, 1790, Grant said that no act of
Congress could limit his constitutional duty to discharge governmental functions
outside the nation’s capital, and that the 1790 statute made no attempt to do so. He
noted that on March 30, 1791, shortly after passage of the statute cited in the
resolution, President Washington issued a proclamation “having reference to the
subject of this very act from Georgetown, a place remote from Philadelphia, which
then was the seat of Government....”48
In 1952, the House debated a resolution of inquiry to “direct” the Secretary of
State to transmit to the House, “at the earliest practicable date, full and complete
information with respect to any agreements, commitments, or understandings which
43 James D. Richardson, ed., Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, in
11 vols. (New York: Bureau of National Literature, 1911) vol. 9, p. 4316. (Hereafter
45 Annals of Congress, vol. 5, March 18, 1796, p. 759.
46 Richardson, vol. 5, p. 2284.
47 Richardson, vol. 9, p. 4317.
48 Ibid., p. 4318.
may have been entered into” by President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston
Churchill in the course of their conversations during January 1952, “and which might
require the shipment of additional members of the Armed Forces of the United States
beyond the continental limits of the United States or involve United States forces in
armed conflict on foreign soil.”49 The resolution came to the floor accompanied by
an adverse report from the Committee on Foreign Affairs.50
During debate on the resolution, which passed 189 to 143,51 those who
supported the resolution regarded it as non-binding. For example, Representative
John Martin Vorys advised his colleagues that “we cannot by this resolution make
the Executive answer. We cannot make the President, we cannot make the Secretary
of State, say anything. That has been passed on time and again under the precedents
of this House. We can put a question up to them. All we can do, if we pass this
resolution, is to say to the Secretary of State and the Department of State: “Please try
again. That answer you sent down was not very good.”52 Representative James P.
Richards, who voted against the resolution, said, regarding this resolution, “it is
within the province of the President to refuse to divulge information that he considers
would be dangerous or incompatible with the interests of our Nation.”53
Discretion over the release of information to Congress has also been given
expressly to department heads. In 1971 the House considered a resolution directing
the Secretary of State to furnish certain information respecting U.S. operations in
Laos, but the language of the resolution included the phrase “to the extent not
incompatible with the public interest.”54 The House tabled this resolution, 261 to
requested certain facts from the President, “to the extent possible,” regarding
shortages of crude oil and refined petroleum products, refinery capacity utilization,
and related matters. It was adopted 340 to 4.56
A committee has a number of choices after a resolution of inquiry is referred to
it. It may vote on the resolution up or down or amend it. It can report favorably or
adversely, but an “adverse report” is often accompanied by a substantial amount of
information prepared by the executive branch. The quality and quantity of this
information can bring the Administration into compliance with the resolution,
49 98 Stat. 1205.
51 Ibid., p. 1215.
52 Ibid., p. 1208.
53 Ibid., p. 1209.
54 Congressional Record, vol. 117, July 7, 1971, p. 23800.
55 Ibid., p. 23807.
56 Congressional Record, vol. 125, June 15, 1979, pp. 15027-15039.
making further congressional action unnecessary. Usually a committee issues a
report on a resolution of inquiry; if it does not, it can be discharged.
Resolutions of inquiry may be amended at the committee level before action on
the House floor. In 1980, the House acted on H.Res. 745, a resolution directing
President Jimmy Carter to furnish information on the role of Billy Carter, the
President’s brother, as an agent of the government of Libya.57 The House Judiciary
Committee, after considering and adopting a number of amendments, reported the
resolution favorably by a vote of 27 to 0.58 The amendments included two that had
been adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee.59 A third committee, the Permanent
Select Committee on Intelligence, reported on the resolution with regard to classified
material that touched on the relationship between Libya and Billy Carter. It
concluded that the Administration was in substantial compliance with H.Res. 745.60
During floor action, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,
Representative Peter Rodino, asked unanimous consent that the committee
amendments be considered en bloc. There was no objection to his request and the
committee amendments were agreed to.61 He then noted that out of the previous 33
resolutions of inquiry, dating back to 1932, motions to table carried 25 times, largely
because there had been substantial compliance to the committee on jurisdiction. It
was Rodino’s judgment that the Administration had substantially complied with
H.Res. 745 and that the issue was therefore “moot” and he would make a motion to
table the resolution.62
Representative Robert McClory, a member of the Judiciary Committee,
disagreed with Rodino’s position and his proposal to table the resolution. In
McClory’s view, “there has been something less than substantial compliance with the
terms of the resolution,” and that one omission from the materials assembled by the
Administration was President Carter’s “conversation on June 17, 1980, with the
Attorney General concerning the Billy Carter investigation.”63 Rodino’s motion to
table the resolution was rejected on a vote of 124 to 260, after which the House voted
57 Congressional Record, vol. 126, September 10, 1980, p. 24948.
58 U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 96-1213,
Part 1, (Washington: GPO, 1980).
59 Congressional Record, vol. 126, September 10, 1980, p. 24950; U.S. Congress, House
Committee on Foreign Affairs, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 96-1213, Part 2 (Washington:
60 U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 96-1269,
Part 1 (Washington: GPO, 1980).
61 Congressional Record, vol. 126, September 10, 1980, p. 24949.
62 Ibid., p. 24951.
63 Ibid., p. 24953.
to agree to the resolution.64 In defeating the tabling motion, 116 Democrats joined
The fact that a committee reports a resolution of inquiry adversely does not
mean the committee opposes the resolution or that the Administration has declined
to supply information. The documents delivered by the executive branch may bring
it in substantial compliance with the resolution, thus making it unnecessary for the
committee to report the resolution favorably for floor action.
An example typifying this executive-legislative exchange comes from 1979,
when 81 Members supported H.Res. 291, a resolution that directed President Carter
to provide the House with information on the energy crisis: shortages of crude oil and
refined petroleum products, methods used in allocating oil supplies, possible actions
within the private industry to withhold or reduce oil supplies, and any reduction in
the supply of crude oil from any foreign country.65 Within a week, 21 additional
Members joined as sponsors of the resolution.
The House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce reported the
resolution unfavorably and recommended that it not pass.66 However, the committee
had been seeking the information in a number of hearings, and had asked the
Department of Energy to provide the information requested in the resolution. The
committee stated that much of the information could be found in departmental
publications, and that some of the information had been obtained in the course of
committee investigations. Yet it also faulted the Administration: “it cannot be said
that all information necessary to a full understanding of the supply problem is
collected by the DOE, nor that the information which is collected is timely. To the
contrary, the Committee has found the DOE lacking vital information on such
matters as secondary stocks and actual sales of products.” The information supplied
by the department was “rarely timely, as a result of long lag times in sending out
forms and retrieving them,” and the department was “heavily reliant on unverified
industry data despite the clear directives from the Congress in a variety of statutes,
such as the Energy Supply and Environmental Coordination Act of 1974, and the
Department of Energy Organization Act.”67
The committee offered several reasons for reporting the resolution adversely:
(1) the department had provided “all of the requested documents which were
available at the time resolution was considered, and has promised to provide the
Committee additional information when it becomes available;” (2) much of the
information was of a confidential or proprietary nature, which was appropriate to
share with the committee of jurisdiction but less appropriate to share with the entire
64 Ibid., p. 24961.
65 Congressional Record, vol. 125, May 24, 1979, p. 12626.
66 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 96th Cong., 1st
sess., H.Rept. 96-261 (Washington: GPO, 1979).
67 Ibid., p. 4.
Congress; (3) the cost of reproducing the documents was substantial and
unnecessary; (4) whatever information was available to the department had been
shared with the committee and Congress; and (5) the data requested would probably
not “quell public skepticism relating to the Nation’s gasoline problems”68 The
committee then added a sixth reason:
The Committee wishes to make clear that it is extremely interested in
reliable information concerning the nature of our petroleum supply problems.
The information currently available is far from adequate, and the Committee in
reporting this resolution adversely does not suggest that the Congress and the
public have been fully informed concerning these matters. Nor does the
Committee wish to indicate that the Congress does not have a right to such
information. To the contrary, the Congress clearly has such a right. Rather, the
use of a resolution of inquiry is not the appropriate mechanism for obtaining this69
readily available data: it simply will not result in any new data.
When the resolution came to the floor on June 14, Representative John Dingell
pointed to a desk covered with information provided by the Energy Department,
including “the tables, data, and other documents. The total is a stack of papers nearly
a foot high.” Yet he also conceded that all of the committee members “believe that
the Department’s gathering system is inadequate and that data concerning the energy
supplies, demands, and prices is not timely provided.”70 Representative Dingell said
he was not critical of those who filed the resolution of inquiry: “I do believe that
continued inquiry by the Congress is highly desirable. I believe that the information71
must be made plain.”
Instead of the mass of material sitting on the desk, several Members wanted a
summary of what the documents contained. Representative Dingell said the
department had prepared a summary but it was not yet available from the printer.
After several Members objected to voting on the resolution without a summary,
Representative Dingell agreed to withdraw his initial motion for the immediate
consideration of the resolution.72
Debate continued the next day, with a number of Members expressing
dissatisfaction with the quality of departmental data. Minority Leader John J.
Rhodes, who had introduced the resolution, said that “as far as the technicalities of
the situation are concerned, those questions were answered, but they were answered
in such a way as to be almost incomprehensible, and certainly not to inform with the
68 Ibid., p. 7.
69 Ibid., p. 8.
70 Congressional Record, vol. 125, June 14, 1979, p. 14952.
71 Ibid., p. 14953.
72 Ibid., p. 14955.
House or the American people as to the reasons for the existence of these
shortages.”73 A move to table the resolution of inquiry lost on a vote of 4 to 338.74
As the debate moved along, with Members of both parties expressing support
for the resolution, Representative Dingell said “I understand the temper of the House
very clearly. I want to have my colleagues know that we have had the resolution on
inquiry fully and fairly and properly complied with by the DOE, and it will be further
fully, fairly, and properly complied with according to the letter of the rules of the
House if this resolution is adopted.” He wanted his colleagues to know “I have no
objection to the vote which will take place, and I want them to know that the vote
will, I regret to advise them, procure no new information other than that which was
available at the committee table and which was made available to my Republican
colleagues yesterday in response to the resolution.” He pledged to “persist in my
efforts to procure the information which I and my colleagues desire to have on this
particular matter, and that the motion to table made earlier by me was simply to save
the time of the House and to see to it that the information requested by the sponsors
of the resolution of inquiry was presented to the House in a proper and appropriate
fashion.”75 The resolution of inquiry passed on a vote of 340 to 4.76
Another example comes from 1986, after Representative Leon Panetta
introduced H.Res. 395 to receive documents regarding the Administration’s use of
$27 million in appropriated funds for humanitarian assistance for the Nicaraguan
democratic resistance. A subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
held a hearing on the resolution and made a tentative recommendation that the
resolution be reported favorably to the full committee.77 The subcommittee reviewed
documents provided by the Administration, and agreed to recommend that the full
committee report adversely if the subcommittee received information covering six
categories.78 This second effort by the Administration convinced both the
subcommittee and Representative Panetta that the executive branch was in essential
compliance with the resolution, but the subcommittee and Representative Panetta
also agreed that the documents demonstrated that the Administration “has not
complied with the law requiring it to set up appropriate monitoring procedures with
respect to the so-called humanitarian assistance for the Contras authorized by the
Congress.”79 Representative Panetta, having met with representatives from the
Central Intelligence Agency to review classified documents, wrote to the chairman
73 Ibid., p. 15028.
74 Ibid., p. 15029.
75 Ibid., p. 15035.
76 Ibid., p. 15039.
77 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 99th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 99-585
(Washington: GPO, 1986), p. 1.
78 Ibid., pp. 4-5.
79 Ibid., p. 5.
of the full committee that the Administration had complied with his resolution of
A committee may decide to report a resolution of inquiry adversely because it
competes with other investigations that are regarded as more appropriate. In 1980,
for example, H.Res. 571 directed the Attorney General to furnish the House with “all
evidence compiled by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation against Members of Congress in connection with the Abscam
investigation,” which was a Justice Department undercover operation that led to
charges of criminal conduct against certain Members of Congress. The resolution
also asked for “the total amount of Federal moneys expended in connection with the
The House Judiciary Committee reported the resolution adversely.82 Committee
opposition to the resolution was unanimous.83 The Justice Department “vigorously
oppose[d]” the resolution.84 The objections raised by the department, with which the
committee agreed, centered on the concern that disclosure of evidence to the House
would jeopardize the ability of the department to successfully conduct grand jury
investigations and to prosecute any indictments, and that the release of unsifted and
unevaluated evidence “would injure the reputations of innocent people who may be
involved in no ethical or legal impropriety.”85
Other considerations were present. The House Standards of Official Conduct
Committee, conducting its own inquiry into Abscam, unanimously opposed the
resolution of inquiry.86 The committee had begun the process of negotiating with the
Justice Department to obtain access to evidence needed for investigation by the
House.87 Moreover, two subcommittees of the House Judiciary Committee were
planning hearings into the proper standards for the Justice Department to conduct
undercover operations, particularly against Members of Congress.88 During House
debate, Representative John J. Cavanaugh expressed concern that Abscam “raises
serious questions of the separation of powers and the ability of one branch of our
Government — the executive — to employ investigative methods that are capable
80 Ibid., p. 6.
81 Congressional Record, vol. 126, February 27, 1980, p. 4071.
82 U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 96-778
(Washington: GPO, 1980).
83 Congressional Record, vol. 126, February 27, 1980, p. 4073.
84 U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 96-778
(Washington: GPO, 1980)., p. 2.
86 Congressional Record, vol. 126, February 27, 1980, p. 4071.
88 Ibid. (statement by Rep. Rodino).
of subverting and intimidating and compromising the independence, the
constitutional independence, of another and separate branch of our Government.”89
In this case, Congress chose not to interrupt or interfere with Justice Department
prosecutions because it might appear to be self-serving. Representative William J.
Hughes stated: “I can think of nothing that would be more damaging to the Congress
than to be perceived as having obstructed an active criminal investigation.”90 One
Member was concerned that forcing the Justice Department to release evidence might
help some Members who faced criminal prosecution and look as though lawmakers
had greater protection than the average citizen.91 By a vote of 404 to 4, the House
decided to table the resolution of inquiry.92
In other situations, Congress may choose to investigate a scandal even if
jeopardizes successful prosecutions. In terms of public policy, it may be more
important to investigate a matter promptly rather than wait for the Justice Department
or an Independent Counsel to investigate, prosecute, and pursue appeals. Such was
the case with Iran-Contra, where both Houses of Congress concluded that the value
of timely legislative investigation outweighed the needs of prosecutors. Lawrence
Walsh, the independent counsel for Iran-Contra, recognized that if Congress “decides
to grant immunity, there is no way that it can be avoided. They have the last word
and that is a proper distribution of power.... The legislative branch has the power to
decide whether it is more important perhaps even to destroy a prosecution than to
hold back testimony they need.”93
Discharging a Committee
If a committee receives a resolution of inquiry and fails to report it within the
requisite number of days, a motion to discharge the committee is privileged. That
procedure was used in 1971 after Representative James M. Collins introduced H.Res.
certain documents. The resolution directed the release, “to the extent not
incompatible with the public interest,” of any documents containing a list of the
public school systems, from August 1, 1971 to June 30, 1972, that would be
receiving federal funds and would be engaging in busing schoolchildren to achieve
racial balance. Also requested were any documents regarding HEW rules and
regulations with respect to the use of any federal funds administered by the
89 Ibid., p. 4077.
90 Ibid., p. 4076.
91 Ibid. (statement by Rep. Lungren).
92 Ibid., pp. 4078-4079.
93 Lawrence E. Walsh, “The Independent Counsel and the Separation of Powers,” Houston
Law Review, vol 25, January 1988, p. 9.
94 Congressional Record, vol. 117, July 14, 1971, p. 24936.
department for busing to achieve racial balance.95 The resolution was referred to the
Committee on Education and Labor.
When the committee failed to report the resolution during the deadline, which
was seven days in 1971, Representative Collins moved to discharge the committee.
His motion was agreed to, 252 to 129.96 Representative Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill,
Jr.,who at that time was the House Majority Whip, voted against the discharge
motion but admitted that he was uncertain about the meaning of the resolution:
“What does the resolution do? Is there anything wrong? Is it a serious resolution?
Is it something we should have had up today? Is it of that import?”97 He said that
when Members came to the floor they were told: “Well, if you are for busing, you
vote ‘nay.’ If you are against busing, you vote ‘yea.’”98 He now realized that the
guidance given to Members was “inaccurate.”99 The vote was not for or against
busing, but for or against receiving information from HEW. With this new
understanding, Representative O’Neill announced that he had no objection to the
resolution and that “I will, and I hope all other Members will vote for the
Representative O’Neill asked the chairman of the Education and Labor
Committee, Representative Carl Perkins, why the committee had not acted on the
resolution. Perkins explained: “To be perfectly truthful and frank ... I forgot about
it ... [I]t was of the nature that the sponsor of the resolution could have picked up the
telephone and gotten the information from HEW.”101
Representative Edith Green emphasized that the resolution “is simply a request
for information,” not “a bill to legislate,” and asked the HEW Secretary “in a
perfectly orderly fashion to supply within 60 days the amount of money that is now
being spent and in which districts for busing and the guidelines, rules and regulations
which HEW has drawn up to enforce this busing to achieve some magical racial
balance.”102 With the purpose of the resolution clarified, the House passed it 351 to
95 Ibid., p. 28863.
97 Ibid., p. 28864.
98 Ibid., p. 28866.
100 Ibid., p. 28867.
101 Ibid., p. 28864.
102 Ibid., p. 28866.
103 Ibid., p. 28869.
Military Operations in Vietnam
The House has frequently used resolutions of inquiry to obtain information on
matters of defense and military policy. A particularly heavy use of resolutions of
inquiry came during the Vietnam War. In 1971, the House voted on two resolutions
to give Members access to the “Pentagon Papers,” the Defense Department study
entitled “United States-Vietnam Relationships, 1945-1967.” One of the cosponsors
of the resolution, Representative Bella Abzug, stated that the procedures adopted by
the House Armed Services Committee, which had a single copy of the study, did not
provide Members adequate access to the 47-volume study: “they cannot take notes,
cannot have staff people review and comment, cannot report on what they have read.
Under such limitations, a Congressman must have an elephantine memory to retain
the facts that would enable him to exercise his constitutional duty.”104
H.Res. 489 directed the President “to furnish the House of Representatives
within fifteen days after the adoption of this resolution with the full and complete
text” of the Pentagon Papers. The House Armed Services Committee reported the105
resolution adversely, 25 to 2, and it was tabled on the floor, 272 to 113. H.Res.
Also in 1971, the House considered three resolutions of inquiry to obtain
information about U.S. covert operations in Laos. H.Res. 492 directed the Secretary
of State, “to the extent not incompatible with the public interest,” to provide the
House with any documents containing policy instructions or guidelines given to the
U.S. Ambassador in Laos regarding covert CIA operations in Laos, Thai and other
foreign armed forces operations in Laos, U.S. bombing operations other than those
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, U.S. armed forces operations in Laos, and U.S. Agency
for International Development operations in Laos that assisted, directly or indirectly,
military or CIA operations in Laos.107 The resolution was accompanied by an adverse108
report from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Representative Benjamin
Rosenthal, a cosponsor of the resolution, explained its purpose:
This administration has steadfastly refused to report to the people and to the
Congress the nature of the CIA covertly declared war in Laos where the CIA
agents are advising the Meo tribesmen. The administration has steadfastly
refused to admit that we are hiring Thai mercenaries and ferrying them to Laos
in American aircraft to conduct a war in defense of the Laotian Government —
a war which this administration has not declared ... Yet it is widely reported in
104 Congressional Record, vol. 117, June 30, 1971, p. 23026.
105 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, 92nd Cong., 1st sess., H.Rept. 92-
106 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, 92nd Cong., 1st sess., H.Rept. 92-
107 Congressional Record, vol. 117, July 7, 1971, p. 23800.
108 Ibid., p. 23801.
the papers — the New York Times and the Washington Post and other
newspapers, Life magazine and the Christian Science Monitor — that all of these
events are taking place. We in Congress are forced to depend on what we are109
advised of in the public newspapers as to our involvement in Laos.
The resolution was tabled, 261 to 118.110 Another resolution of inquiry,
directing the Secretary of State — “to the extent not incompatible with the public
interest” — to furnish the House with additional information regarding U.S. policy111112
involving Laos, was also tabled.
House resolutions of inquiry are typically reported from committee after a
committee meeting and a roll-call vote, but usually without holding hearings.
However, in 1972 the House Armed Services Committee held hearings on H.Res.
918, a resolution of inquiry introduced by Representative Abzug to obtain
information on U.S. bombing in Vietnam. Most of the resolution requested specific
facts on U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam, the number of sorties flown
during specific periods, the tonnage of bombs and shells fired or dropped during
specific periods, and other statistics.113
In testifying on the resolution at the hearings, Representative Abzug stated that
the level of bombing constituted “the most dramatic proof yet that the Nixon
administration is entirely committed to a full-scale and long-term U.S. air war in
Indochina instead of negotiating a full withdrawal in return for the release of our
captured pilots.”114 At these hearings, Dennis J. Doolin, Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Defense for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, provided information on some of the
elements in H.Res. 918.115
The resolution was reported adversely, 32 to 4.116 During floor debate, the
chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative F. Edward
Hébert, explained that the information sought in the resolution was in committee
files, “available to any Member of the House for his examination, subject, of course,
to the rules established by the committee which preclude the release or public use of
110 Ibid., pp. 23807-23808.
111 Ibid., p. 23808.
112 Ibid., p. 23810.
113 Congressional Record, vol. 118, April 19, 1972, pp. 13497-13498.
114 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, “Full Committee Hearing and
Consideration of H.Res. 918, a Resolution of Inquiry Concerning the Bombing in Vietnam
by the United States Government,” 92nd Cong., 2nd sess., April 18, 1972 (Washington: GPO,
115 Ibid., pp. 9057-9150.
116 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, 92nd Cong., 2nd sess., H.Rept. 92-
such information without the consent of the committee.”117 After describing the
material available in the committee’s sessions, both open and closed, he said that the
resolution “is directed to giving the Congress the information which is here printed
for them to see. Every question is answered.”118
Later in the debate, Representative William J. Randall, a member of the Armed
Services Committee, noted that the when the committee went into executive session,
“[a]ll afternoon the answers to the questions propounded by the Member from New
York [Representative Abzug] were spread upon the record. We were given the very
latest facts and figures on all of the things asked for in the resolution.”119
House floor debate on the Abzug resolution, occupying 87 pages in the
Congressional Record, includes the transcript from the open hearings before the
Armed Services Committee and a number of articles on military operations in
Vietnam. Some of the Members who voted to table the resolution objected only to
one part: the part asking the Administration to give the target date for full
independence for Saigon. Otherwise, said Representative Paul Findley, “the
resolution seems to deal entirely with facts of past actions that should be available
to Congress.”120 The House voted 270 to 113 to table the resolution.121 Although the
resolution was not agreed to, it forced the delivery of information from the
Administration to the Armed Services Committee, and from there to individual
A similar pattern emerged in 1973, when the House acted on H.Res. 379, which
directed the Secretary of Defense to furnish the House information on military
operations in Cambodia and Laos: the number of sorties flown by the U.S. during
certain periods, the tonnage of bombs and shells fired or dropped during certain
periods, the number and nomenclature of U.S. aircraft lost over Cambodia and Laos,
and other statistics.122 The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing to
review the 19 specific questions addressed in the resolution. Chairman Hébert asked
the Defense Department “to be as responsive as possible to each of the questions, and
to the maximum extent possible provide this information in open session.” If
necessary, the committee would go into closed session to “receive such additional
classified information as may be necessary to permit the Department to be fully
responsive to this privileged resolution.”123
117 Congressional Record, vol. 118, April 26, 1972, p. 14349.
119 Ibid., p. 14433.
120 Ibid., p. 14432.
121 Ibid., p. 14434.
122 Congressional Record, vol. 119, May 9, 1973, pp. 14990-14991.
123 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, “Full Committee Consideration
of Privileged Resolution H.Res. 379, Concerning Certain Military Actions in Cambodia andrdst
Laos,” 93 Cong., 1 sess., (Washington: GPO, 1973), pp. 1-2.
In open session, Deputy Assistant Secretary Doolin provided answers to each
of the questions, with two exceptions. He told the committee that he would not be
able to provide the answer for Question 10 for another 24 hours, at which time the
committee received the information and placed it in the hearing record.124 He also
noted that Question 18, regarding the legal authority for U.S. military activity in
Cambodia and Laos since January 27, 1973, would be addressed by DOD General
Counsel J. Fred Buzhardt, who proceeded to provide a legal analysis.125 As noted in
the following exchange with Representative Charles Wilson, all of the information
given by Doolin and Buzhardt was in open session:
Mr. CHARLES WILSON. There was no difficulty in presenting this to
us in open session, was there?
Mr. DOOLIN. No, sir. I have tried to be as forthcoming as possible.
Mr. CHARLES WILSON. This information could have been furnished
by a resolution asked for by any Members of the Congress, I assume?126
Mr. DOOLIN. Yes, sir.
Toward the end of the hearing, Chairman Hébert noted that the resolution “asks
for certain information to be brought to the attention of the Congress. That
information is now before the attention of the Congress. Therefore, making, in
effect, the resolution a moot question.” The sponsor of the resolution, Representative
Robert L. Leggett, agreed that “we answered all of the questions I think really very
well.”127 When Chairman Hébert said “the resolution becomes moot,” Leggett128
responded: “I concur in that.” The committee then voted 36 to zero to report the
resolution adversely.129 The answers to the 19 questions were placed in the130
Congressional Record, at which point the resolution was tabled.
Forcing Other Legislative Actions
Some resolutions of inquiry have caused Congress to take other legislative
actions to address the lack of information received from the Administration. The two
examples included here relate to the calling of supplemental hearings and the
adoption of substitute legislation.
124 Ibid., pp. 5-6.
125 Ibid., pp. 11-12.
126 Ibid., p. 17.
127 Ibid., p. 32.
128 Ibid., p. 33.
130 Congressional Record, vol. 119, May 9, 1973, pp. 14991-14994.
A resolution of inquiry, after being partially satisfied by answers from the
Administration, can trigger supplemental information obtained through congressional
hearings. This was the result of H.Res. 552, introduced by Representative Benjamin
Rosenthal on June 18, 1975, to seek information about the Administration’s proposed
sale of Hawk and Redeye missiles to Jordan.131 On the following day, the House
Committee on International Relations forwarded the resolution to President Gerald
R. Ford, requesting a prompt reply. The White House responded on June 25,
providing responses to the 20 questions put by the resolution.132
However, committee chairman Thomas E. Morgan questioned whether the
resolution was a bona fide “privileged resolution of inquiry” under House rules. On
June 26, the committee voted to table the resolution on the ground that it was not
restricted to factual answers, but instead required “investigation” on the part of the
President to answer several of the questions.133 Representative Rosenthal, having
announced his intention to call up H.Res. 552 for House action because the
committee had not reported on his resolution, agreed to withhold that motion in
exchange for committee hearings. Representative Morgan advised Representative
Rosenthal that the committee “should get the facts regarding the proposed sale, and
I will be glad to cooperate with him in making that happen.”134
The hearings were important because Congress was in the process of deciding
whether to block the sale by passing a resolution of disapproval under Section 36(b)
of the Foreign Military Sales Act. On July 9, Representative Rosenthal said that
information about the proposed sale “was leaked to the press, not formally
announced,” and that “[n]o attempt was made to inform the Congress about the sale
in the past two months, and there would have been none were it not for the questions
posed in House Resolution 552, the resolution of inquiry.” When the Administration
acknowledged the sale, it indicated that formal notice would be reported to Congress
in late July or early August. Representative Rosenthal pointed out that “Congress
probably will be in recess at that time and unable to act on this very important arms
sale and policy decision.”135
Formal notice of the sale reached Congress on July 10. Under Section 36(b),
Congress had 20 calendar days to pass a concurrent resolution of disapproval.
Legislative action on the disapproval resolution therefore had to be completed by July
30. On July 14, Representative Jonathan Bingham and 10 other Members introduced
H.Con.Res. 337 to disapprove the sale. On July 16 and 17, a subcommittee of the
House International Relations Committee held two days of hearings on the proposed
131 Congressional Record, vol. 121, June 18, 1975, p. 19616.
132 Congressional Record, vol. 121, June 21, 1975, pp. 21664-21667.
133 Ibid., p. 21664.
134 Ibid., p. 21882.
135 Ibid., p. 21884.
sale.136 Administration officials defended the sale on the first day; eight Members of
Congress raised their objections the following day.
With the disapproval resolution moving toward a vote, President Ford withdrew
the proposed sale on July 28 and entered into negotiations with Congress. The
Administration announced a compromise on September 16, limiting the missiles to
“defensive and non-mobile antiaircraft weapons.”137
In 1991, just prior to U.S. military operations against Iraq, Representative
Barbara Boxer and six Democratic colleagues introduced H.Res. 19 to call for certain
information regarding casualty estimates, biological and chemical weapons, financial
assistance from other countries (burdensharing), and other information.138
Members of both parties recognized that the House was entitled to budgetary
and other information from the executive branch, but decided on a different
approach. After the war began, Representatives Charles Schumer and Leon Panetta
introduced H.R. 586 on January 18, for the purpose of requiring regular reports from
the Administration on U.S. expenditures for military operations and the financial
contributions from other countries.139 Action on a bill would avoid the 14-day
deadline imposed by a resolution of inquiry.
On February 21, the House moved to suspend the rules to pass H.R. 586.
During debate on the bill, several Members discussed that the General Accounting
Office had not been given access to any of the costs incurred in connection with the
war.140 Representative Schumer said that until the resolution of inquiry and his bill
were introduced, “we just were not getting those answers when we asked
questions.”141 Lawmakers received information on what allies had pledged but not
“about how much they had actually paid.”142 Representative Boxer announced that
she would support H.R. 586 and the tabling of her resolution.143 In a letter dated
February 20, Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to President George H.W.
136 U.S. Congress, House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on
International Political and Military Affairs, “Proposed Sales to Jordan of the Hawk andthst
Vulcan Air Defense Systems,” 94 Cong., 1 sess. (Washington: GPO, 1975).
137 Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1975 (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1975),
138 Congressional Record, vol. 137, January 3, 1991, p. 105.
139 Congressional Record, vol. 137, January 18, 1991, p. 1910.
140 Congressional Record, vol. 137, February 21, 1991, p. 3900.
141 Ibid., p. 3902.
143 Ibid., p. 3903.
Bush, provided specific information in response to H.Res. 19.144 After H.R. 586
passed 393 to 1,145 the House engaged in a brief debate on H.Res. 19 before tabling
it by a vote of 390 to 0.146 In discussing the resolution of inquiry, Representative
Dante Fascell said that it “has proven to be a catalyst for the executive branch to be
more forthcoming with the Congress in providing necessary and appropriate
information in order to satisfy the oversight responsibilities of the Congress.”147
Mexico Rescue Package
Another use of a resolution of inquiry occurred in 1995, after the Clinton
Administration offered a multibillion dollar rescue package for the Mexican peso.
As initially introduced by Representative Marcy Kaptur, the resolution (H.Res. 80)
did not contain discretion for the Administration. It requested the President, within
14 days after the adoption of the resolution, “to submit information to the House of
Representatives concerning actions taken through the exchange stabilization fund to
strengthen the Mexican peso and stabilize the economy of Mexico.”148
The House Banking and Financial Services Committee voted 37 to 5 to report
the resolution favorably, but with a substitute directing the President to submit the
documents “if not inconsistent with the public interest.”149 The committee explained
that its requests for documents “should not be construed to include drafts of
documents provided in final form, nor any notes of any individual.”150 On March 1,151
the House adopted the committee substitute and agreed to the resolution, 407 to 21.
Although the resolution established a deadline of 14 days, White House Counsel
Abner J. Mikva sent a letter to Speaker Newt Gingrich that the Administration would
not be able to provide the documentary material until May 15, or two months after
the date set in the resolution.152 By April 6, the Treasury Department had supplied
Congress with 3,200 pages of unclassified documents and 475 pages of classified
144 Ibid., p. 3904.
145 Ibid., pp. 3906-3907.
146 Ibid., pp. 3907-3911.
147 Ibid., p. 3909.
148 H.Res. 80, 104th Cong., 1st Sess., February 10, 1995.
149 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, 104th Cong., 1st
sess., H.Rept. 104-53 (Washington: GPO, 1995).
150 Ibid., p. 5.
151 Congressional Record, vol. 141, March 1, 1995, p. 6422.
152 Carol J. Doherty, “House GOP Considers Stance on Bailout of Mexico,” CQ Weekly
Report, vol. 53, March 25, 1995, p. 880.
documents, with additional materials promised.153 The White House said it was in
“substantial compliance” with the resolution.154
Iraq’s Declaration on WMD
On February 12, 2003, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced a resolution
of inquiry to give the House access to the 12,000-page Iraqi declaration on its
weapons of mass destruction. The declaration had been provided to the UN Security
Council on December 7, 2002. In his floor statement on H.Res. 68, Representative
Kucinich said that if the Administration was intent on going to war against Iraq, “I
believe it is incumbent upon them to make the document which was portrayed as
evidence of an Iraqi threat available for all to evaluate.” He asked that “the primary155
documents be transmitted in their complete and unedited form.”
The Administration gave a copy of the declaration to the House on March 7,
after which the House International Relations Committee voted to report H.Res. 68156
adversely. Representative Doug Bereuter, who chaired the committee markup, said
that the Administration’s release of the document rendered the resolution moot: “I157
would say, in short, Mr. Kucinich has won his point.” When the declaration
reached the House on March 7, the Speaker directed the Permanent Select Committee
on Intelligence to retain custody because of its facilities for handling classified
documents. The declaration was made available for review by Members and to
House staff with appropriate security clearances who have executed a nondisclosure
oath or affirmation.
Resolutions in the 108th-110th Congresses
While no resolutions of inquiry were introduced in the 110th Congress (2007-
represented a substantial increase over prior years. Between the 102nd and 107th
Congresses (1991-2002), an average of one resolution of inquiry was introduced in
each Congress. In the 108th Congress, however, 14 such resolutions were introduced,
and 39 resolutions of inquiry were introduced in the 109th Congress.158 The 53
resolutions of inquiry introduced in the 108th and 109th Congresses exceed the total
153 Mike Mills, “Treasury Says Congress Given Papers on Mexico,” The Washington Post,
April 7, 1995, p. F1.
154 Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1995,(Washington: Congressional Quarterly, 1995),
155 Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 149, February 12, 2003, p. H396.
156 U.S. Congress, House Committee on International Relations, 108th Cong., 1st sess.,
H.Rept. 108-38 (Washington: GPO, 2003).
157 U.S. Congress, House Committee on International Relations, “Markup of H. Res. 68 and
H.R 1208,” 108th Cong., 1 sess., March 12, 2003 (Washington: GPO 2003), p. 4.
158 Data from Legislative Information System (LIS) of the U.S. Congress.
number of such resolutions introduced over the previous 25 years combined. In fact,
in no Congress since the 76th Congress (1939-1940) were more resolutions of inquiry
introduced than the number introduced during the 109th Congress.
House resolutions of inquiry have historically been an effective means of
obtaining factual material from the executive branch. In the past, even when
committees report the resolutions adversely or succeed in tabling them on the House
floor, a substantial amount of information has usually released to Congress. In fact,
arguments that the Administration has complied with a resolution are frequently the
reason for reporting a resolution adversely and tabling it. On occasion, a resolution
of inquiry is reported adversely because it competes with other investigations (either
in Congress or in the executive branch) that are considered the more appropriate
avenue for inquiry. In some situations, resolutions of inquiry have been instrumental
in triggering other congressional methods of obtaining information, such as through
supplemental hearings or alternative legislation. Recent Congresses have shown an
increase in the use of these privileged resolutions.
Members turn to resolutions of inquiry for different reasons. A Member may
introduce such a resolution if he or she has been unable to do so through other
channels (e.g., committee investigations and hearings). The committee of
jurisdiction might have advised the lawmaker that it had no intention of investigating
the matter. Also, a resolution of inquiry is often a useful way for a Member to bring
attention to an issue, receive basic information from the Administration, and perhaps
trigger more extensive legislative investigations.