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Secretary of the Senate

Chapter 1: The Office of the Secretary of the Senate
Chapter 2: Legislative Offices Under the Secretary of the Senate
Chapter 3: Administrative Offices Under the Secretary of the Senate
Chapter 4: Complete List of Secretaries of the Senate

The Office of the Secretary of the Senate

As an elected officer of the Senate, the secretary of the Senate supervises an extensive array of offices and services to expedite the day-to-day operations of the United States Senate. The first secretary was chosen on April 8, 1789, two days after the Senate achieved its first quorum for business. From the start, the secretary was responsible for keeping the minutes and records of the Senate, including the records of senators' election, and for receiving and transmitting official messages to and from the president and the House of Representatives, as well as for purchasing supplies. As the Senate grew to become a major national institution, numerous other duties were assigned to the secretary, whose jurisdiction now encompasses clerks, curators, and computers; disbursement of payrolls; acquisition of stationery supplies; education of the Senate pages; and the maintenance of public records. Today, the secretary coordinates two of the largest technology initiatives in Senate history, both designed to bring state-of-the-art efficiency to management of legislative and financial information.

The secretary's responsibilities include both legislative and administrative functions.

Legislative Functions

The secretary regularly accompanies the chaplain into the Senate chamber for the opening of the day's session, and a seat beside the presiding officer is reserved for the secretary. Every act passed by the Senate is examined and signed by the secretary. In certain parliamentary circumstances, the secretary may also preside over the Senate, the most recent occurrence being at the opening of the Eightieth Congress in 1947 when the office of vice president was vacant. On that occasion, Secretary of the Senate Leslie Biffle took the chair until the Senate could elect a president pro tempore.

The first secretary took the minutes of Senate proceedings, a function continued today by the journal clerk and executive clerk. After the Congressional Record evolved into an official publication, the secretary came to supervise the Senate's reporters of debates and preparation of the Daily Digest. Among other Senate floor staff who report to the secretary are the parliamentarian, bill clerk, legislative clerk, and enrolling clerk.

Administrative Functions

The first secretary purchased the quill pens, ink, and parchment needed by eighteenth-century senators. Modern secretaries of the Senate have responsibility for the Senate Stationery Room, a multimillion-dollar retail operation that keeps senators' offices supplied. From the beginning, the secretary served as the Senate's disbursing officer, paying senators their original salary of six dollars a day plus travel expenses. As the Senate grew, a separate financial clerk was appointed under the secretary's jurisdiction.

In recognition of the immediate and historical significance of Senate bills, resolutions, hearings, and reports, the secretary oversees the Office of Printing and Document Services, the Office of Senate Security (which maintains classified documents), the Senate Library, the Office of Senate Curator, and the Senate Historical Office. The secretary also maintains the Office of Interparliamentary Services to provide support for those interparliamentary conferences in which the Senate participates and to assist senators in international travel. Also under the secretary's direction, the Office of Public Records collects and makes publicly available documents relating to campaign finance, financial ethics, foreign travel, and lobbying.

In 1789 the secretary was authorized to hire "one principal clerk." This principal clerk, or chief clerk, for many years served primarily as a reading clerk on the Senate floor. But during the 1960s, in response to the secretary's growing administrative duties, the position evolved into that of assistant secretary of the Senate, who oversees the administration of the Secretary's Office, including computers and the secretary's web site. The assistant secretary also performs the functions of the secretary in his or her absence. During the 1960s, under the leadership of Francis Valeo, staff positions under the secretary of the Senate were redefined from patronage to professional status, a trend continued by Valeo's successors.

Some Notable Secretaries

A position of great trust and responsibility, the Senate secretaryship has been held by a long line of distinguished individuals. Samuel Allyne Otis, the first secretary of the Senate, had previously been speaker of the Massachusetts legislature and a member of the Continental Congress. Otis held the post of secretary for twenty-five years, never missing a day that the Senate was in session. General Anson McCook of New York, a former House member and one of the "fighting McCooks" of the Civil War, served as secretary, as have two former U.S. senators -- Charles Cutts of New Hampshire and Walter Lowrie of Pennsylvania. Other former House members who have held the post are William Cox (NC) and Charles Bennett (NY). During the Ninety-ninth Congress (1985-1987), Jo-Anne Coe became the first woman to serve as secretary.

It has not been unusual for secretaries of the Senate to have devoted their entire careers to the Senate. Several began as pages, including Edwin Halsey, who served throughout the dramatic New Deal years; Leslie Biffle, a close confidant of President Harry Truman; Carl Loeffler and J. Mark Trice, secretaries during the Eightieth and Eighty-third congresses; and Walter J. Stewart, secretary from 1987 to 1994.

Legislative Offices Under the Secretary of the Senate

The parliamentarian advises the presiding officer, senators and their staffs, committee staffs, representatives and their staffs, administration officials, the media, and members of the general public on all matters requiring an interpretation of the Standing Rules of the Senate, the precedents of the Senate, unanimous consent agreements, and provisions of public law affecting the proceedings of the Senate. In the name of the presiding officer, the parliamentarian refers to the appropriate Senate committees all legislation, messages, communications, reports from the executive branch, and petitions and memorials from state legislatures and private citizens.

The bill clerk records actions of the Senate, keeps an authoritative historical record of Senate business, enters daily legislative activities and votes into the automated legislative information system (LIS), and assigns numbers to all bills and resolutions.

The legislative clerk reads aloud bills, resolutions, conference reports, amendments, and other material when directed by the presiding officer, calls the roll for quorums and recorded (yea and nay) votes, and prepares the Calendar of Business for each daily session of the Senate. In addition, the legislative clerk maintains official copies of measures pending before the Senate and receives all proposed and agreed-upon amendments.

The journal clerk records the minutes of the daily legislative proceedings of the Senate and prepares them for publication in the Senate Journal, as required by Article I, section 5 of the Constitution. The journal clerk also prepares a history of bills and resolutions for inclusion in the printed Journal.

The executive clerk prepares an accurate record of actions taken by the Senate during executive sessions (proceedings on nominations and treaties) which is published as the Executive Journal at the end of each session of Congress. The executive clerk also prepares the Executive Calendar, which is printed daily when any nominations, treaties, or resolutions pertaining to executive business are pending before the Senate. The executive clerk also prepares all nomination and treaty advice and consent resolutions for transmittal to the president.

The enrolling clerk proofreads and prepares for printing all Senate-passed legislation prior to its transmittal to the House of Representatives, the National Archives, the secretary of state, the United States Claims Court, and the White House. The enrolling clerk physically transmits all Senate messages to the House of Representatives and arranges for delivery of all enrolled bills and resolutions to the White House.

The official reporters of debates prepare and edit for publication in the Congressional Record a substantially verbatim report of the proceedings of the Senate and serve as liaison for all Senate personnel on matters relating to the content of the Record.

The Daily Digest section of the Congressional Record provides a concise accounting of all official actions taken by the Senate on a particular day. All Senate hearings and business meetings (including joint meetings and conferences) are scheduled through the Daily Digest, published in the Congressional Record and on the Senate Web site, and entered into the automated legislative information system (LIS) hearings file. Meeting outcomes are also published by the Daily Digest in the Record each day.

The Captioning Services Office provides real-time closed captioning of Senate floor proceedings for the deaf and hearing-impaired community. Real-time captioning is the live electronic subtitling of the audio portion of a television program.

Administrative Offices Under the Secretary of the Senate

The Disbursing Office compiles Senate budget estimates for presentation to the Committee on Appropriations, maintains and disburses all Senate appropriated funds and all Senate payrolls, interprets and carries out all matters related to budgeting, appropriations, compensation, payroll deductions, retirement, life and health insurance, and other employee benefits authorized for senators and staff.

The Printing and Document Services Office serves as liaison to the Government Printing Office for the Senate's official printing. The office assists the Senate by coordination, scheduling, delivery, and preparation of Senate legislation, hearings, documents, committee prints, and miscellaneous publications and provides printed copies of all legislation and public laws to the Senate and the public. In addition, the office assigns publication numbers to all hearings, committee prints, documents, and miscellaneous publications; orders all blank paper, envelopes and letterhead for the Senate; and prepares page counts of all Senate hearings in order to compensate commercial reporting companies for the preparation of hearings.

The Stationery Room is a nonprofit merchandising outlet that acts as purchasing agent for stationery supplies and maintains adequate inventories to meet Senate office needs.

The Senate Gift Shop offers members, staff, and the general public the opportunity to purchase Senate memorabilia and gift items.

The Interparliamentary Services Office is responsible for administrative, financial, and protocol functions for all interparliamentary conferences in which the Senate participates and for special delegations authorized by the leadership. The office also provides appropriate assistance to other Senate delegations to foreign countries.

The Senate Security Office is responsible for the administration of classified national security information and personnel, communications, and computer security programs to protect classified information in Senate offices and committees. It serves as the Senate's liaison to the executive branch in matters relating to classified national security information.

The Public Records Office receives, processes, and maintains for public inspection records, reports, and other documents filed with the secretary involving the Ethics in Government Act, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, the Mutual Security Act, and the Senate Code of Official Conduct. As provided by various Senate rules, it also handles public financial disclosure, reimbursed travel reports, registration of mass mailings, political fund designations, and supervisors' reports on individuals performing Senate services. The office reviews the filings of and provides guidance to registrants under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

The Chief Counsel for Employment provides legal advice to, and represents, Senate offices in employment law matters and lawsuits under the Congressional Accountability Act, which brings the Senate under eleven federal laws regulating the employer-employee relationship.

The Senate Library is a legislative and general reference library that provides both traditional and computerized information services and maintains a comprehensive collection of congressional, governmental, and other publications for the use of Senate offices and the media.

The Conservation and Preservation Office develops and coordinates programs directly related to the preservation of Senate records and materials for which the secretary of the Senate has statutory authority. Initiatives include mass deacidification, conservation of books and documents, collection surveys, and contingency planning for disaster response and recovery.

The Senate Curator, under the direction of the Senate Commission on Art, administers the museum programs of the Senate for the Capitol and Senate office buildings. The curator and staff suggest acquisitions, design and present exhibits, and produce publications. The office studies, identifies, arranges, protects, preserves, and records the historical paintings, sculpture, and furnishings in the Senate Collection. The office also exercises supervisory responsibility for those chambers in the Capitol under the jurisdiction of the Senate Commission on Art.

The Senate Historical Office collects and provides information on important events, dates, statistics, precedents, and historical comparisons of current and past activities of the Senate for use by senators, staff, the media, scholars, and the public. The office advises Senators and committees on the cost-effective disposition of their noncurrent office files, assists researchers seeking access to Senate records, and conducts a program of oral history interviews with retired senior Senate staff. The office maintains extensive collections of photographs and biographical files on all former members.

The Senate Page School serves all appointed Senate pages. It exists to provide a smooth transition from and to the students' home schools, providing students with a sound program, both academically and experientially during their service to the Senate.

Complete List of Secretaries of the Senate
NameTerm of ServiceNote
Samuel Allyne Otis 17890408_18140422Apr 8, 1789–Apr 22, 1814 The Senate elected Otis as secretary on April 8, 1789, just two days after achieving its first quorum. Otis began immediately to function officially in the office without having taken any oath, but the instance is unique and explained by the fact that at the time there was no oath to administer. The "Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths" was not signed into law until June 1, 1789 (1 Stat. 23). This law prescribed that the secretary of the Senate take the same oath supporting the Constitution as senators, representatives, and other officers of the Congress. Otis took his oath on June 3, 1789 (Senate Journal, Volume 1, p. 31), and served until his death on April 22, 1814, just four days after the end of the second session of the 13th Congress. When the Senate convened a third session of the 13th Congress on September 19, 1814, it swore into office Chief Clerk Samuel Turner, Jr., as acting secretary. Turner served until Charles Cutts took office the following month.
Charles Cutts 18141012_18251212Oct 12, 1814–Dec 12, 1825
Walter Lowrie 18251212_18361205Dec 12, 1825–Dec 5, 1836
Asbury Dickins 18361213_18610715Dec 13, 1836–Jul 15, 1861
John W. Forney 18610715_18680604Jul 15, 1861–Jun 4, 1868
George C. Gorham 18680606_18790324Jun 6, 1868–Mar 24, 1879
John C. Burch 18790324_18810728Mar 24, 1879–Jul 28, 1881 Francis E. Shober (October 25, 1881 to December 18, 1883) was elected Acting Secretary during a special session of the Senate in October 1881. He no doubt would have been relieved of his duties the following December when the 47th Congress convened, but for a quirk of fate, the party lines of that Congress were equally split, 37 Democrats to 37 Republicans. The Senate could not settle on a Secretary, and Shober continued in office for two more years until the 48th Congress, dominated by Republicans, elected a new Secretary.
Anson G. McCook 18831218_18930807Dec 18, 1883–Aug 7, 1893
William Ruffin Cox 18930807_19000131Aug 7, 1893–Jan 31, 1900
Charles G. Bennett 19000201_19130313Feb 1, 1900–Mar 13, 1913
James M. Baker 19130313_19130519Mar 13, 1913–May 19, 1919
George A. Sanderson 19190519_19250424May 19, 1919–Apr 24, 1925
Edwin Pope Thayer 19251207_19330309Dec 7, 1925–Mar 9, 1933
Edwin A. Halsey 19330309_19450129Mar 9, 1933–Jan 29, 1945
Leslie Biffle 19450208_19470104Feb 8, 1945–Jan 4, 1947 Leslie Biffle (January 29, 1945 to February 8, 1945) was first elected Acting Secretary after Halsey's death, and then–about a week later–was chosen Secretary by a subsequent resolution of the Senate.
Carl A. Loeffler 19450208_19470104Jan 4, 1947 –Jan 3, 1949
Leslie Biffle 19490103_19530103Jan 3, 1949 – Jan 3, 1953 Biffle is the only person to be elected Secretary of the Senate for two non–consecutive terms.
J. Mark Trice 19530103_19550105Jan 3, 1953–Jan 5, 1955
Felton M. Johnston 19550105_19651230Jan 5, 1955–Dec 30, 1965
Emery L. Frazier 19660101_19660930Jan 1, 1966–Sept 30, 1966 Frazier was elected on August 20, 1965 by a resolution of the Senate which specified that his term commence on January 1, 1966 and terminate on September 30, 1966 (Senate Resolution 140, 89th Congress, 1st session). In order that there be no break in the continuity of the occupancy of the office, Frazier was sworn in on October 22, 1965 (the day before Congress adjourned) even though his period of service was not to start until January 1, 1966 (Senate Journal, Volume 174, page 955). If this step had not been taken, Frazier could not have begun to function officially until Congress reconvened on January 10, 1966. The termination date of September 30, 1966 was specified in the resolution at Mr. Frazier's insistence because of his desire to retire as soon after his 70th birthday (September 24, 1966) as practicable.
Francis R. Valeo 19661001_19770331Oct 1, 1966–Mar 31, 1977 Valeo was elected on August 20, 1965 by a resolution of the Senate which specified that his term commence on October 1, 1966 (Senate Resolution 140, 89th Congress, 1st session). He was sworn in on September 30, 1966.
J. Stanley Kimmitt 19770401_19810104Apr 1, 1977–Jan 4, 1981 The elections of Frazier, Valeo, and Kimmitt are three instances where the election of the Secretary did not mark the end of the incumbent's term of service. That is –– Felton Johnston continued in office for over four months after Frazier's election, Valeo's election took place before Frazier even began his service, and Valeo served three months after Kimmitt's election.
William F. Hildenbrand 19810105_19850102Jan 5, 1981–Jan 2, 1985
Jo–Anne L. Coe 19850103_19870106Jan 3, 1985–Jan 6, 1987 Coe was the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Senate.
Walter J. Stewart 19870106_19940415Jan 6, 1987–Apr 15, 1994
Martha S. Pope 19940415_19950103Apr 15, 1994–Jan 3, 1995
Sheila P. Burke 19950104_19950607Jan 4, 1995–Jun 7, 1995
Kelly D. Johnston 19950608_19960930Jun 8, 1995–Sept 30, 1996
Gary Lee Sisco 19961001_20010711Oct 1, 1996–Jul 11, 2001
Jeri Thomson 20010712_20030106Jul 12, 2001–Jan 6, 2003
Emily J. Reynolds 20030107_20070104Jan 7, 2003–Jan 4, 2007
Nancy Erickson 20070104_20150106Jan 4, 2007–Jan 6, 2015
Julie E. Adams 20150106Jan 6, 2015–Mar 1, 2021
Sonceria Ann Berry 20210301Mar 1, 2021–present
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