House Committee Hearings: Witness Testimony
House Committee Hearings:
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
Witnesses before House committees generally must file an advance copy of their
written testimony with the committee, and then limit their oral testimony to a brief
summary (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)).1 A question and answer period usually follows a
witness’s opening statement. Following hearings, committees usually publish the
transcripts of witness testimony and questioning. For more information on legislative
process, see [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml].
Advance Written Testimony
The individual rules adopted by committees often state how far in advance of
hearings testimony should be filed (frequently 24-48 hours). Witnesses may be required
to submit multiple copies of their statements. Committee rules sometimes stipulate the
number of copies of written testimony to be submitted, and may also require submissions
in electronic form. Electronic submissions facilitate printing the testimony as part of the
hearing record and making the testimony available online to the public.
Committees have the authority to waive the advance written testimony requirement;
for instance, if a witness is invited with little notice, the requirement may be waived.
However, committees usually are diligent about obtaining advance copies of testimony.
Before the hearing, committee staff may want to summarize or outline the testimony, draft
questions tailored to each witness’s statement, and make copies of the statement for
distribution to the press and public.
The written statement of a nongovernmental witness 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 (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)). This
“truth in testimony rule” is intended to assist members of the committee with evaluating
a witness’s views and remarks.
1 This report was written by Thomas P. Carr, formerly an analyst in American National
Government at CRS. The listed author updated the report and is available to answer questions
concerning its contents.
At the beginning of a hearing, it is common for committee members to make
preliminary remarks, and most committees place time limits on these opening statements.
Then, the committee chair generally introduces each witness in accordance with an
arranged order and format. The chair, or any member designated by the chair, may
administer the oath to a witness (Rule XI, clause 2(m)(2)). In practice, most committees
rarely require witnesses to testify under oath; sworn testimony appears to be more
common at investigative hearings. Committees generally require witnesses to limit their
oral testimony to a brief summary, in part because written testimony usually is available
in advance, and Members want to use the time of the hearing to question witnesses. The
rules adopted by some committees stipulate how long a witness may speak, or grant
discretion to the chair to make this determination.
House rules accord each committee member an opportunity to question each witness
for five minutes (Rule XI, clause 2(j)(2)). Following the first round of questioning under
this five-minute rule, committees may allow additional time for questioning witnesses and
may allocate this time as they choose. In practice, many committees allow a committee
member to extend his or her time by unanimous consent.
In addition, a committee may adopt a rule or motion to allow a specified number of
its members to question a witness for longer than five minutes (Rule XI, clause 2(j)(2)).
The time for extended questioning may not exceed 60 minutes, and is to be equally
divided between the parties. A committee also may adopt a rule or motion allowing its
majority and minority staff to question a witness for up to one hour, equally divided
between the parties.
Each committee has the discretion in drafting its rules to determine the order in
which members may question witnesses. Some committees alternate between the parties,
in order of seniority. “Early bird rules” permit questioning of witnesses based on
members’ order of arrival at the hearing, usually with the chairman and ranking member
retaining priority for recognition regardless of their arrival time. Some committees use
a combination of these methods.
Most committees regularly ask for a reporter from the Office of Official Reporters
to transcribe their hearings. Where transcripts are kept, they must be verbatim or
substantially verbatim; only technical, grammatical, and typographical corrections
authorized by those making remarks are allowed (House Rule XI, clause 2(e)(1)(A)).
Committees usually publish their transcripts, although this is not generally required.
Committees must make their publications available to the public in electronic form, “to
the maximum extent feasible” (Rule XI, clause 2(e)(4)). Supplemental materials also may
be printed as part of the hearing record. For example, a committee might include charts
and research materials, written statements of witnesses, witness responses to unanswered
or follow-up questions, other materials submitted by witnesses, or letters and testimony
from individuals who did not testify in person.