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Frequently Asked Questions about Committees


Conference Committees

What is the role of committees in the legislative process?

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.

For more information on the role of committees in the Senate, see the "Operations" section of the Senate Committees historical essay.


What happens at a committee hearing?

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.

  1. Legislative Hearing
    • The most familiar type of congressional hearing gathers information about the subject matter of one or more measures in anticipation that the committee will eventually mark up and report legislation.
  2. Oversight Hearings
    • Congress has historically engaged in oversight of the executive branch—specifically the review, monitoring, and supervision of the implementation of legislation. Oversight hearings are one technique a committee can use in this evaluation.
  3. Investigative Hearings
    • An investigative hearing is different than a legislative or oversight hearing in that investigations often involve an allegation of wrongdoing. Read the essay, A History of Notable Senate Investigations by the Senate Historical Office for more information about investigations.
  4. Confirmation Hearings
    • Senate committees have the authority to hold hearings on presidential nominations to executive and judicial positions within its jurisdiction. The Constitution gives the Senate the power of "advice and consent" on presidential nominations.


Can I attend Senate hearings?

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.gov/committees/committee_hearings.htm.


What is the difference between a Standing Committee, a Joint Committee, and a Special or Select Committee?

Select and joint committees generally handle oversight or housekeeping responsibilities.

The different types of Senate committees are further explained in the essay Senate Committees.


Where can I find information about a committee's jurisdiction?

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."


What if an issue is in the jurisdiction of multiple committees?

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.


How are senators assigned to committees?

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. 


Where can I find a list of senators who have served as committee chairs?

A list of chairpersons of Senate standing committees (1789 to present) is available on Senate.gov.


Where can I find a current subcommittee membership list?

A list of a committee's current subcommittee membership can be found on Senate.gov under the Committees Membership 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.


What is the difference between caucuses and committees?

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.


Where do I find the current committee hearing and meeting schedule?

In addition to individual committees' websites, the Senate website provides a list of upcoming meetings and hearings.


How do I find witness testimonies from committee hearings?

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.


How do I request copies of a hearing's webcast?

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.


What is a committee report?

Committee reports are documents produced by Senate committees that address investigations, committee business, and legislative or policy measures. There are different types of committee reports:

For more information about committee reporting, read the article on Congress.gov Committee Reports.


How do I find committee reports?

You can read the full text of recent committee and conference reports online from (govinfo Committee Reports (GPO) or Congress.gov ) or find copies in a Federal Depository Library.  

For additional information on locating reports see the research guide, How to find committee reports and conference reports.


Conference Committees

What is a conference committee?

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


How do I find conference reports?

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.