Frequently Asked Questions about Committees
Committees are essential to the effective operation of legislative bodies. Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction. Committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information, and recommend courses of action to the Senate.
Hearings are a method by which committee members gather information. Business dealt with in hearings may be broadly classified into four types: legislative, oversight, investigative, and consideration of presidential nominations.
Most committee hearings and markup sessions are generally open to the public. In rare cases, usually to discuss national security issues, a committee will meet behind closed doors. The Senate’s meeting and hearing schedule is available at https://www.senate.govv/committees/hearings_meetings.htm.
Select and joint committees generally handle oversight or housekeeping responsibilities.
The different types of Senate committees are further explained in the essay Senate Committees.
A committee's jurisdiction can be found on its website. If the committee's jurisdiction is not listed on the site's homepage, then look under the subheadings "About the Committee" or "Committee Information."
Under Rule XVII most referral decisions are based on the “subject matter which predominates." Modern issues are complex, however, and it is not uncommon for measures to cross jurisdictional boundaries. Senate Rule XVII allows a measure to be referred to multiple committees for consideration. These measures can either be considered sequentially or simultaneously.
Each party assigns, by resolution, its own members to committees, and each committee distributes its members among subcommittees. The Senate places limits on the number and types of panels any one senator may serve on and chair. For more information on how senators are assigned to committees, read about committee membership from the Senate Historical Office.
A list of chairpersons of Senate standing committees (1789 to present) is available on Senate.gov.
A list of a committee's current subcommittee membership can be found on Senate.gov under the Committees Membership & Assignments section. Simply choose a committee from the drop down list and then click on a subcommittee's link, this will take you to the current membership roster for that subcommittee.
Subcommittee membership can also be found in the Congressional Directory.
For additional information read the research guide How to find subcommittee membership rosters.
A caucus is an informal organization of members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members. There are regional, political or ideological, ethnic, and economic-based caucuses.
Caucuses differ from committees because committees are subsidiary organizations, established for the purpose of considering legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or carrying out other assignments as instructed by the Senate.
Shortly after a hearing takes place, most committees post witness testimony on their websites. These testimonies often do not include the question-and-answer portion of the hearing. However, committees do provide access to the webcast of the hearing which shows the hearing in its entirety. Hearings may also be published on GPO’s website.
For additional information see the research guide, How to find committee hearings.
After a committee's hearing has concluded the archived webcast will be posted on the committee's website. Contact the committee directly for information about requesting copies of a webcast.
For more information about committee reporting, read the article on Congress.gov Committee Reports.
For additional information on locating reports see the research guide, How to find committee reports and conference reports.
A conference committee is a temporary, ad hoc panel composed of House and Senate conferees formed for the purpose of reconciling differences in legislation that has passed both chambers. Conference committees are usually convened to resolve bicameral differences on major or controversial legislation.
Additional Information about Conference Committees
You can read the full text of recent conference reports online on GPO's website or Congress.gov. Copies are also available in a Federal Depository Library. You also can read the full text of a conference report in the Congressional Record.
How to find committee reports and conference reports provides additional information on locating reports.