The standing, or permanent, committee was not a new world device; rather, the concept originated in and was used by the British Parliament. The American colonial assemblies as well as the Continental Congress employed the committee in their legislative structures. Thus, the First Congress was not unfamiliar with committees and the functions they performed. However, with a light workload and Members few in number, the early Congresses did not need the elaborate division of labor afforded by a standing committee system. The Congresses of the nascent Republic relied primarily on the House and Senate Chambers and temporary, ad hoc committees to consider legislative proposals. Typically, the broad outlines of a major bill were first determined in the full chamber and then bills were referred to a select or ad hoc committee for details. Sometimes even the details were decided by the full Chamber, and the ad hoc committee performed only the clerical tasks of preparing and distributing the bill. Upon completion of its duties, the ad hoc committee was dissolved.
The system of ad hoc committees was flexible and responsive to the legislative preferences of the entire House or Senate. Under this procedure, all Members fully participated in decision making in all areas. However, the system soon showed signs of inadequacy. Ad hoc committees encouraged reliance on the executive branch for leadership, and they proved to be duplicative. Also, the Chambers found it inconvenient and time-consuming to appoint them; in the Third Congress alone approximately 350 ad hoc committees were created. Further, committee assignments were not always made carefully; experienced Members often were overlooked or, conversely, junior Members were underutilized. Most important was the dramatic increase in workload which necessitated a division of labor. No longer could every Member be knowledgeable about every issue which came before the Congress; rather, Members needed to rely on other Members for expertise and guidance in policymaking.
The House acted first to create permanent committees, the earliest of which coexisted with ad hoc committees. The First Congress created a standing Committee on Enrolled Bills (1789). Other early committees included the Committee on Elections and the Committee on Claims, both created in 1794; two others were added in 1795: the Committee on the Revision of the Laws and the Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers, predecessor to today's Energy and Commerce Committee. By 1810 the House had 10 standing committees. During the administration of President Monroe (1817ÿ091825) the system expanded considerably.
Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the House increasingly relied on standing committees to debate and amend measures. As this reliance on standing committees steadily expanded, the House's relationship with standing committees changed: measures were first referred to committee for consideration and only after being reported by committee were they debated by the full House.
In contrast, during its first quarter century, the Senate created only four permanent committees. Two were joint House and Senate panels and all were chiefly administrative. The Senate established 12 permanent committees in 1816, including the Committee on Finance and the Committee on Foreign Relations. The system grew steadily thereafter, and the number of committees more than doubled by 1844. No additional committees were created until 1863; in fact, the Senate abolished several committees in 1857. Despite their permanence, prior to the Civil War committees did not play a dominant role in the Senate. In the antebellum period, often Senate decision making was based on House-passed measures; legislation was not referred to committee, or was amended little if referred; and party leaders managed many of the important measures on the floor.
Nevertheless, it is generally recognized that by the Civil War congressional committee systems of both Chambers had become institutional fixtures; at that time the House had 39 standing committees, and the Senate had 22. In the years after the Civil War, the number of committees increased dramatically, and the growth of the system mirrored the growth of the Nation. Structural complexity was added with the emergence of subcommittees. Although the creation of standing committees generated little attention, their development radically changed the structure of the Congress, its method of policy making, and its internal authority.
During the latter part of the 19th century committees acquired much of their present day authority and powers. They became substantive policymaking bodies and agenda setters as opposed to merely technical aids of the Chambers. They were authorized to legislate exclusively in particular issue areas, although committee jurisdictions were not codified and defined in writing until many years later. They acquired the right to kill legislation they did not support, rather than having to report all measures. Woodrow Wilson, writing his doctoral dissertation in 1885, described this prerogative, ``When [a bill] goes from the clerk's desk to a committee-room it crosses a parliamentary bridge of sighs to dim dungeons of silence whence it will never return.'' 4 By the turn of the century committees were fairly independent of chamber and party control and committee chairmen had tremendous power over committee business. In fact, Woodrow Wilson characterized congressional government in 1885 as ``a government by the chairmen of the Standing Committees of Congress.'' 5
While new committees were created to deal with emerging issues, rarely were old ones abolished. By the turn of the century, committees were too numerous and too decentralized to facilitate systematic, comprehensive, and coordinated policymaking. The number of standing committees peaked in 1913, with 61 in the House and 74 in the Senate.
Some committees had neither held a business meeting nor reported a bill for many years, and were considered sinecures. They were maintained principally because of the privileges that accrued to chairmen, including additional office space and limited staff. In one case, the Senate Committee on Revolutionary Claims was not abolished until 1921 because its large committee room served as the meeting place of the minority party caucus. Other committees, particularly in the Senate, were not abolished out of deference to the minority party whose members often chaired them.
In contrast with the 19th century, the 20th century has been one of retrenchment of the committee system. The House cut six minor committees in 1909, and another six in 1911, when it also took away the power of the Speaker to appoint Members to committees. Subsequently, House committee members and leaders would be elected by the full House. The House again reduced its committees in 1927 by combining 11 expenditure committees into one Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments. Senate reform was more far-reaching. In 1921, the Senate eliminated 40 minor, superfluous, or moribund standing committees including the anachronistic Committee on Revolutionary Claims.
Subsequent events of the 20th century profoundly affected all branches of government and strained the Nation's governing capacities. The Great Depression and World War II produced an overwhelming legislative agenda, causing severe stress in Congress. As George Galloway, staff director of the first Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, explained: ``Still functioning for the most part with the machinery and facilities inherited from the simpler days of the mauve decade, its calendars and committees became increasingly congested, its councils confused, and its members bewildered and harassed by multiplying technical problems and local pressures.'' 6
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946
The initial congressional response to the changing environment of the 1930s was to defer to presidential leadership; vast delegations of authority were made to the executive agencies. Yet when the country became fully engaged in World War II and a massive government apparatus was put in place, the Congress began to rethink this executive deference, and question its future place in the constitutional scheme. As California Democrat Jerry Voorhis asserted in 1942, ``I believe Congress must realize that only Congress can restore Congress to its proper place.'' 7 At the same time, a chorus of criticism of the Congress by scholars, reporters, commentators, and Members themselves arose. The critics saw a tradition-bound institution incapable of governing in the second half of the 20th century.
These external and internal pressures caused Congress to take an introspective look at itself. A host of reform proposals were introduced; ultimately the Congress passed legislation that established in 1945 the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. Subsequently, the Congress enacted the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which is widely regarded as the blueprint of the contemporary Congress. The most far-reaching organizational restructuring since the First Congress, the Act systematized and reorganized the committee system in the House and Senate, as well as increased congressional access to technical information, increased staffing (including authorizing, for the first time, permanent professional and clerical staff for all standing committees), removed certain categories of activities from the workload of Congress, improved control over the budget, increased Members' pay, and required lobbyists to register with the House and Senate. The massive institutional changes wrought by the 1946 Act heralded the modern era of Congress.
The 1946 Act was the first, and still the most ambitious, effort to restructure the standing committee system. Since the origin of the system, committees were established, dissolved, or consolidated in a nonsystematic fashion, and were retained long after their need. The 1946 Act changed this haphazard system into a simple, rational design; in this transformational process, the number of standing committees in the House decreased from 48 to 19, and in the Senate they likewise decreased from 33 to 15. Jurisdictions were for the first time codified and made part of Chamber rules. Committees were eliminated, others were consolidated, and jurisdictional conflicts were minimized.
However, an unintended consequence of the 1946 Act with profound ramifications was the proliferation of subcommittees. While the Act had established a set number of committees, it did not limit the number of subcommittees that could be created. Another of the Act's features -- equalizing and stabilizing committee sizes -- proved to be an easy target for alteration; prior to electing Members to committees at the outset of a Congress, the House often adopted a resolution to amend the committee sizes listed in the rules. Other unforeseen outcomes can be summarized as follows: ``by reducing the number of standing committees and hardening their jurisdictional lines, the act tended to strengthen the seniority system, reinforce committee autonomy, and inhibit the ability of the two Chambers to recast its work groups in response to new configurations of public problems.'' 8
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970
Despite the 1946 Act's impressive accomplishments, complaints soon surfaced about some of its deficiencies, omissions, and outright failures. The mood was captured by Representative Estes Kefauver who in 1947 rhetorically asked, ``Did we modernize Congress?'' and answered, ``Not nearly enough.'' 9 During the 5 years after enactment, the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments (a predecessor to Governmental Affairs) twice conducted hearings on the Act's effectiveness -- in 1948 and 1951. Members of Congress and others, who either appeared or submitted written statements for the record, proposed various recommendations for further reform of the organization and operation of Congress. These recommendations involved committee structure, staffing, workload, fiscal controls and oversight, procedures, ethics, and party government, among others. The Expenditures Committee, however, did not formulate a reform proposal in either year for congressional consideration.
Yet calls for reform became more commonplace as external demands and internal stress again accumulated. Society was growing ever more complex, the parties were in decline, voter cynicism was on the upswing, and the ``imperial'' presidency was challenging the role of Congress. Within Congress, the entrenched conservative chairmen engaged in factional conflict with liberal newcomers; complex, cross-cutting issues blurred committee jurisdictional lines; and the old ``norms'' of congressional behavior, especially apprenticeship, were diminishing in importance.
By the mid-1960s the time was ripe for reform. It seemed appropriate to create another joint committee to reexamine congressional problems comprehensively and to effect further reorganization. The fact that Senator Mike Monroney (D-OK) offered the proposal in early 1965 added to its luster; as a Representative, he had been Vice Chairman of the first joint committee and the 1946 Act's floor manager in the House. By March both Chambers had agreed to the resolution.
The mandates of the first and second committees were essentially identical, and Democrats and Republicans were equally represented to encourage bipartisan support. (A Progressive member of the first committee, Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, caucused with the Republicans.) A notable difference, however, was the institutional gestation period; while the Congress took 17 months to develop and pass the first reorganization act, the 1970 Act took more than 5 1/2 years. In 1970, for the first time in 24 years and for only the second time in its entire history, Congress enacted an omnibus bill to improve its organization and operations.
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 revised committee procedures. Specifically, the law encouraged open committee meetings, required that committees have written rules, required that all committee roll call votes be made public, allowed radio and television coverage of committee hearings, and safeguarded the rights of minority party members on the committee. The statute also prohibited general, but not specific, proxies for committee votes in an attempt to prevent their indiscriminate use by committee chairmen and other members. The Act further provided a more equitable distribution of committee assignments and chair positions in the Senate. Specifically, with safeguards for current assignments, three categories of committees were created and Senators were allowed two committees in the first category and one in each of the other categories. Senators were prohibited from holding more than one committee chairmanship and more than one subcommittee chair on any major committee.
The 1970 Act is widely believed to be a more modest accomplishment than its 1946 predecessor because it did not generally change the organization of Congress in fundamental ways. However, its legacy is notable. The Act alleviated a wide range of procedural and institutional strains; further, it marked a turning point in the reform movement, signalling an end to an era when committee chairmen and senior members were considered autonomous with little constraint and the beginning of nearly a decade of change.
House Committee Reform Efforts
Party Caucus Reforms, 1971-1975. Changes in the Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference dramatically affected committee organization and assignment procedures. Although Republican party changes paralleled, and often preceded, Democratic changes, those of the Democratic majority party had the greatest impact on House committee operations.
Activist, reform-minded Members in the House soon concluded that the 1970 Act did not go far enough in curtailing the allegedly abusive and autocratic behavior of certain chairmen. Spearheading an effort to change Democratic party rules in the House, the Democratic Study Group was successful in prevailing upon the Democratic Caucus to create a special party committee -- the Committee on Organization, Study, and Review, chaired by Representative Julia Butler Hansen (D-WA). In January 1971, the Caucus accepted the first set of proposals put forth by the Hansen Committee. Henceforth, Democrats would be limited to one subcommittee chairmanship, and each subcommittee chair would be entitled to one staffer. Perhaps more important, nominations for committee chairmanships and memberships were not required to be based on seniority. Also, on the request of ten Members, nominations could be separately debated and voted on by the Caucus.
Another set of seniority reforms was adopted in 1973. A secret ballot vote on any committee chair was permitted at the demand of 20 percent of the Caucus. To give party leaders more control over committee assignments, the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Caucus Chairman became members of the committee on committees; previously only the Democrats serving on the Ways and Means Committee comprised the members of the committee on committees. The Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee was stripped of his role as chair of the committee on committees, which would be held henceforth by the Speaker. Also, the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, chaired by the Speaker, was created in an effort to promote party policy and unity.
Perhaps most significantly, in 1973 the control of committee chairmen over committee business was limited by the Caucus's approval of the so-called Subcommittee Bill of Rights. The measure forced committee chairmen to share power, and authorized each subcommittee to meet, hold hearings, and act. It empowered the ``democratic caucus'' on each committee to establish subcommittee jurisdictions; set party ratios on subcommittees; and choose subcommittee members and chairmen, guaranteeing all members a major subcommittee slot where possible. Subcommittees were guaranteed independent budgets, and committee chairmen were required to refer measures to subcommittees in accordance with their written jurisdictions.
Further changes to assignment procedures and seniority were made in 1974. In part to diminish its power, the Ways and Means Committee was stripped of its role as the committee on committees; the authority to make Democratic committee assignments was transferred to the newly reconstituted Steering and Policy Committee. Democrats also began requiring automatic secret ballot votes on committee chairmen and allowed for additional nominations for chairman if the first nominee was rejected. The new procedures were used to oust three sitting chairmen at the outset of the next Congress.
The Select Committee on Committees, 1973-1974. With profound changes made to the seniority system, House reformers turned their sights to a committee system in serious disarray. Some of the problems were external: committee jurisdictions and emerging public issues were mismatched, and the dispersed committee system often failed to aggregate related pieces of a policy. Internal stress was evident as well, such as jurisdictional rivalries and scheduling conflicts. Legislators themselves professed to be deeply dissatisfied with the committee structure. A 1973 survey of 101 House and Senate Members ``discovered that 81 percent were dissatisfied with committee jurisdictions and the way they are defined in Congress.'' Only 1 percent of the legislators was ``very satisfied.'' 10
In 1973 the House established a bipartisan Select Committee on Committees (chaired by Richard Bolling, D-MO) on which Democrats and Republicans were equally represented. The Bolling Committee sought to amend House Rules, unlike the Hansen Committee, which had amended Democratic Caucus rules. The report of the Bolling Committee, presented in March 1974, called for 15 exclusive and seven nonexclusive committees in a major jurisdictional realignment plan. The report triggered intense opposition from committee leaders who opposed changes to their jurisdictions, as well as from those alliances known as ``iron triangles,'' composed of committee members and staff, lobby groups, and executive agencies. They feared that structural shifts would unwire their mutually beneficial alliances.
The Democratic Caucus, to which the Bolling Plan had been referred for review, sent the plan to the Democratic Committee on Organization, Study and Review (the Hansen Committee) for further consideration. This committee hastily drafted a much narrower, alternative reorganization plan. Ultimately, the Bolling plan, the Hansen plan, and a Republican package drafted by Representative David Martin (R-NE), former Vice Chairman of the Bolling Committee, were sent to the floor together under an open rule. After a 6-day debate the Hansen proposal was accepted; it took effect with the 94th Congress (1975-1976).
Although the final reorganization mainly retained the existing committee structure and was, therefore, less comprehensive than what the Bolling Committee had recommended, some noticeable jurisdictional changes were made. Major categories of transportation (except railroads) were consolidated in the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. The then Science and Technology Committee assumed overall responsibility for government research and development programs. Foreign Affairs began to operate under new broadly worded jurisdictional language. Most health responsibilities were concentrated in the then Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, although Ways and Means retained most of its leverage on medical financing through payroll taxes. However, energy, environmental, and other issues remained scattered.
The Hansen plan did retain certain Bolling Committee recommendations in the nonjurisdictional area. For example, the Speaker was given the power of multiple referral as well as the power to create ad hoc committees to process bills falling within the purview of two or more standing committees.
Commission on Administrative Review, 1976-1977. Out of the House's rejection of much of the Bolling Committee's package came the suggestion by Representative Bolling for a commission to study House operations. More commonly called the Obey Commission after its chairman, David R. Obey (D-WI), the Commission was established when the House agreed to H. Res. 1368 on July 1, 1976. The Commission's charge was ambitious: to study any matter pertaining to the operations of the House. After a year of prodigious research, the Commission developed 42 recommendations. Although most addressed administrative reorganization and workload management, several proposals dealt with committee and personal staff and committee operations. Further, one recommendation called for the appointment of a new select committee to study committee jurisdictions and assignments.
The House refused to consider the 42 recommendations submitted as H. Res. 766, by rejecting on October 12, 1977, the rule to proceed to the consideration of the resolution.
Second Select Committee on Committees, 1979-1980. In January 1979 both the Democratic Caucus and the Republican Conference voted in favor of a new Select Committee on Committees, and 2 months later the House concurred. In support of the resolution creating the committee, Rules Committee Chairman Richard Bolling explained, ``This sets up a select committee to, which I hope will, complete a process which has been going on for a number of years -- not totally successfully -- to reexamine the way in which the committees are organized, their jurisdictions, and a variety of other things in order that we may have a more efficient committee structure.'' 11 The 15-Member panel, chaired by Representative Jerry Patterson (D-CA), was directed to study committee structure, jurisdictions, rules and procedures, media coverage of meetings, staffing, and facilities. The new select committee was to report its findings by February 1, 1980.
Rather than a full-scale committee realignment plan, the committee concentrated on consolidating energy jurisdiction. The issue had a special urgency due to the looming energy crisis and the perceived overlapping and intertwining jurisdictions over energy, with as many as 83 committees and subcommittees possessing energy-related jurisdiction according to a Select Committee staff study. The modest plan for a new energy panel stirred up fierce opposition among those who stood to forfeit jurisdiction. The affected full committee leaders embraced a conciliatory proposal authored by Representative Jonathan Bingham (D-NY) and designed to apportion and clarify energy jurisdiction among those committees already exercising authority. The Bingham substitute was cemented by an elaborate series of agreements signed by the chairmen and eventually adopted by the House on March 25, 1980, by a vote of 274-134.
The Patterson Committee also recommended a series of proposals which were not acted upon. They included a reduction in the number of subcommittee assignments to five and a reduction in the number of subcommittees per committee to six, except Appropriations. (The Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus subsequently endorsed this proposal.) The Committee proposed a committee and subcommittee scheduling formula, which was designed to reduce scheduling conflicts. In 1981, the House agreed to a Democratic rules package which created the Committee Scheduling Service of the House Information System (managed by the House Administration Committee). This scheduling system has been operable to date, but is not consistently used by committees. In the same year, the Democratic Caucus for the first time adopted rules limiting the number of subcommittees per committee to between six and eight.
Senate Committee Reform Efforts
Although the Senate is a unique institution and distinct from the House in many ways, including its smaller size, flexibility in rules and procedures, and the premium placed on individuality, the Senate was susceptible to many of the external stresses and internal strains plaguing the House and, therefore, not immune from the winds of reform that swept the Congress. Indeed, the 1970s witnessed an outpouring of Senate reforms. In 1971, Senate Democrats decided to allow any Senator to challenge any nomination by the Steering Committee of a committee chairman; and Republicans adopted a proposal that a Senator could be the ranking minority member of only one standing committee. Two years later, Senate Republicans decided to allow their top-ranking committee members to be chosen without regard to seniority. Republicans also adopted a plan to limit the seniority system even further by having members of each standing committee elect the top-ranking Republican on that committee, subject to the approval of the Republican Conference. In 1975, Democrats also voted to choose committee chairmen without regard to seniority; further a secret ballot would be taken whenever one-fifth of their caucus demanded it. In another limitation of seniority power, the Senate in 1975 adopted a resolution giving junior Senators a special allowance to hire staff to help them with committee work. Previously, committee staff had been controlled by the chairmen and other senior members.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Senate created four groups to assess various aspects of Senate operations and make recommendations for improvements: the Culver Commission of 1975-1976, the Stevenson Committee of 1976-1977, the Pearson-Ribicoff Study Group of 1982-1983, and the Quayle Committee of 1984. Each effort approached its task differently, and each contributed in varying degree to the changes which have transformed the Senate into the institution it is today, while at the same time preserving its essential and singular character. In addition, the Committee on Rules and Administration in 1988 conducted a study of proposals to improve the operations of the Senate.
Some of the same or similar proposals have been made to the Senate by two or more of the groups. More generally, there are themes that recur throughout many or all of these reports. For example, there has been a persistent interest in expanding the range and availability of information that Senators may obtain, improving the cost-effectiveness of Senate operations and support services, and taking steps to increase public appreciation and esteem for the Senate as an institution. Two other themes have been at the heart of these studies and their recommendations: first, the need to enhance the ability of Senators to plan their schedules and allocate their time; and second, the importance of improving the focus and timeliness of Senate policy deliberations.
Commission on the Operation of the Senate, 1975-1976. Out of concern that the administrative structure of the Senate was antiquated and fragmented came the Commission on the Operation of the Senate. The creation of the commission had been advocated by Senator John Culver, a former member of the Bolling Committee; thus the panel is often referred to as the Culver Commission. Composed of non-Senators, the Commission chose former Senator Harold Hughes as its chairman and Archie Dykes, Chancellor of the University of Kansas, as its Vice Chairman.
As agreed to by the Senate on July 29, 1975, S. Res. 227 charged the commission to ``make a comprehensive and impartial study of the organization of the Senate.'' The Commission's final report, filed on December 31, 1976, addressed five broad areas: (1) organization and administration of the Senate; (2) the use of Senators' time; (3) technology and communication; (4) Senators' compensation, financial disclosure, and a code of ethics; and (5) improving legislation through better long-term planning, oversight, and assistance from the support agencies. The Commission's report contributed to the adoption of a stronger ethics code, but most of the Commission's recommendations were not immediately acted upon or put into place in the Senate.
The Commission did not address the issues of committee structure and jurisdiction, but recommendations regarding time management did address committee operations. One proposal called for required reporting of all scheduled meetings and frequent updating of a computerized scheduling system then being developed to minimize meeting conflicts. The Rules and Administration Committee has since authorized the Office of the Senate Daily Digest to compile information on the time, place, and purpose of committee sessions, including changes and cancellations, and subsequently a computerized scheduling service became operational. In an effort to facilitate more effective use of Senators' time, the Commission recommended that certain days of the week be devoted to floor session only and other days to committee activities only. This proposal did not receive action by the Senate.
The Temporary Select Committee to Study the Senate Committee System, 1976-1977. Despite changes in the first half of the decade, including those to open committee sessions, weaken the seniority system, and extend committee staff privileges to junior Senators, frustration with the committee system continued. In response, in 1976 the Senate established a bipartisan, 12-member Temporary Select Committee to Study the Senate Committee System (commonly called the Stevenson Committee after its chairman, Senator Adlai Stevenson III, D-IL). Eight months later, the Select Committee issued its first report with recommendations for revamping the Senate's committee system. Because the Stevenson Committee lacked legislative authority, its committee system proposals were submitted as S. Res. 4 of the 95th Congress, and referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration. The Rules Committee subsequently conducted hearings and markups and reported the resolution with a complete substitute, which the Senate amended, and then agreed to on February 4, 1977, by an 89-1 vote. Amendments in the Rules Committee and on the floor relaxed the Stevenson proposal somewhat but did not change the fundamental thrust toward fewer committees and assignments. Thereafter, the Select Committee issued a second report containing recommendations on a variety of other subjects.
Not since passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 had the Senate adopted such a major restructuring of its committee system, and it has not been altered significantly since. Jurisdictional change was, in large measure, the core of S. Res. 4. Committee jurisdictions were redefined and consolidated in several broad substantive areas in order to promote more comprehensive policymaking and to reflect contemporary concerns. In turn this led to the renaming of some committees. Major subject areas which had been fragmented, such as international economic policy, human resources, energy, environment, and governmental affairs, were consolidated. Jurisdictional realignment also resulted in a reduction in the number of committees, including the elimination through consolidation of three standing committees (Aeronautical and Space Sciences, District of Columbia, and Post Office and Civil Service), one select committee (Nutrition and Human Needs), and three joint committees (Defense Production, Atomic Energy, and Congressional Operations).
Another fundamental objective of S. Res. 4 was to reduce the number of committee and subcommittee assignments per Senator. The purpose of the reduction was twofold: to promote an equitable burden of work among all Senators and to insure that all Senators received significant assignments. As agreed to by the Senate, S. Res. 4 continued the three class structure of committees for assignment purposes, but changed their composition and limitations somewhat. Under S. Res. 4, (1) all Senators would be required to serve on two, but not more than two, Class A standing committees; (2) Senators could serve on only one Class B committee; (3) Senators might serve, subject to certain restrictions, on any number of Class C committees. Further, Senators were given for the first time limitations on subcommittee assignments, essentially three each of their Class A committees and two each of their Class B committees. S. Res. 4 also stipulated the sizes of committees but permitted the joint party leadership to authorize temporary increases to assure majority party control.
The assumption underlying S. Res. 4 was that Senators would serve on an average of 11 committees and subcommittees, down from the preceding period when Senators averaged 18 assignments, with some serving on significantly more panels. 12 S. Res. 4 included a ``sense of the Senate'' provision that urged committees to democratize subcommittee assignments by ensuring that no Senator would be given a second subcommittee assignment until every Senator, in order of seniority, had received one, and that no Senator would receive a third assignment until all committee members had been given two. S. Res. 4 also tightened chairmanship limitations, especially subcommittee chairmanships, to disperse leadership among Senators and, indirectly, to limit the number of subcommittees per standing committee. There have been relatively few departures from these chairmanship limitations.
To reduce committee meeting conflicts, S. Res. 4 encouraged committees to meet within designated time periods -- from early morning to 11:00 a.m. and from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. -- in the hope that committees could work out scheduling conflicts. In addition, S. Res. 4 included regulations to minimize conflicts between Senate sessions and committee meetings; for example, it barred committees from meeting after the first 2 hours of Senate session, and in no case after 2:00 p.m. The resolution also directed that the Rules and Administration Committee, in consultation with the joint leadership, establish a computerized scheduling service for all meetings and hearings of committees, subcommittees, and conference committees. Subsequently a computerized scheduling system that had been in development became operational, and the Rules Committee required committees to publish meetings in the Daily Digest of the Congressional Record. Nevertheless, meeting overlaps are still problematic.
To promote a more equitable arrangement in committee staffing, the resolution agreed to a reallocation of staff resources between the parties, allowing for one-third of each committee's personnel budget to be accorded to a committee's minority party members upon their request. Committees were given 4 years to phase in the new staffing arrangement, and in February of 1981 the Committee on Rules and Administration reported that all committees were in compliance. The Rules Committee's report (S. Rept. 97-55) was issued pursuant to a provision of S. Res. 4 directing the Committee on Rules and Administration, in consultation with the joint leadership, to review, on a continuing basis, the committee system and Senate rules.
The Study Group on Senate Practices and Procedures, 1982-1983. Despite previous efforts, in the early 1980s many Senators believed that inefficiencies in Senate operations were still prevalent. Concerns focused on the Senate's emphasis on individual rights and freedom of expression, and the significant amount of time spent on procedural matters rather than on addressing the country's major problems. To address these concerns and other aspects of the changing Senate, on May 11, 1982, the Senate created the Study Group on Senate Practices and Procedures (S. Res. 392). The Study Group, consisting of former Senators James B. Pearson (R-KS) and Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-CT), issued its findings on April 5, 1983.
The Study Group's recommendations fell into four major categories: (1) committee operations; (2) party leadership and agenda setting; (3) Chamber operations and floor procedures; and (4) the congressional budget process. While most of the recommendations focused on floor debate, in the committee area the Study Group recommended that the Senate consolidate its committees into fewer units, with fewer assignments per Senator. Seven standing, select, and special committees were slated to be merged, reducing the total number of Senate committees to thirteen. All joint committees were to terminate, with their Senate functions absorbed by standing committees with the appropriate legislative jurisdiction. The Study Group further proposed that Senators be limited to service on three committees -- one from each of three new categories named in the report. The group also recommended requiring committees to adopt and adhere to annual agendas, consistent with an established overall Senate agenda; prohibiting staffed subcommittees; and limiting the role of subcommittees to holding hearings, compiling data, and summarizing proposed legislation. Although the Senate Rules Committee held a hearing on the proposed package, the Senate took no further formal action.
The Temporary Select Committee to Study the Senate Committee System, 1984. Continued dissatisfaction with aspects of the committee system led to the creation of a second Temporary Select Committee to Study the Senate Committee System on June 6, 1984. The Senate instructed the committee ``to conduct a thorough study of the Senate committee system.'' Such study was to address diverse aspects of the system including: (1) committee jurisdictions, sizes, rules and procedures, and staffing and facilities; (2) the number of committees and subcommittees; and (3) media coverage of meetings. The Select Committee also was charged with making recommendations to ``promote optimum utilization of Senators' time, optimum effectiveness of committees in the creation and oversight of Federal programs, clear and consistent procedures for the referral of legislation falling within the jurisdiction of two or more committees, and workable methods for the regular review and revision of committee jurisdictions.'' 13 The panel, consisting of six Republicans and six Democrats, was chaired by Senator Dan Quayle (R-IN) and co-chaired by Senator Wendell Ford (D-KY), then Ranking Minority Member of the Committee on Rules and Administration.
The Select Committee's final report of December 14, 1984, approved unanimously, contained two draft resolutions incorporating the proposed committee reforms. With some revisions, these resolutions (S. Res. 31 and S. Con. Res. 5) were submitted by Senators Quayle and Ford at the outset of the 99th Congress (1985-1986), and referred to the Rules and Administration Committee, which held a January 15, 1985, hearing on the resolutions and other proposals for Senate reform. At the start of the 99th Congress, several provisions of the resolutions were supported by the Republican Conference, but Conference approval alone was insufficient for their across-the-board implementation.
The core of the Select Committee's recommendations dealt with issues of committee and subcommittee assignments, sizes, numbers, and chairmanship reductions, and were aimed at lessening Senators' heavy workloads and conflicting time demands. At the time of the Quayle Committee's recommendations, Senate Rule XXV limited Senators to service on two ``A'' and one ``B'' committees, as codified in 1977 by S. Res. 4. However, beginning with the adoption of S. Res. 4, numerous waivers of the assignment limitations had been granted each Congress. The Quayle Committee proposed the strict enforcement of these limitations and the elimination of all exceptions to them. When assignments were made at the outset of the next Congress (99th), the Senate reduced committee sizes and granted fewer waivers of the assignment limitations. In fact, the average number of assignments per Senator dropped from about 12 to less than 11.
The Select Committee made a number of other recommendations which were not implemented. It recommended further reductions in the number of subcommittees on which a Senator could serve in order to reduce both the size of subcommittees and the number of slots a Member could hold. The Quayle Committee proposed limiting the maximum number of committees and subcommittees on which a Senator could serve to 9 (with the exception of Appropriations Committee members, who would be limited to 11). In addition, the Select Committee sought to limit to two the total number of ``A'' and ``B'' panels (committees and subcommittees) a Senator could chair. Finally, the Select Committee went beyond its original mandate and proposed reforms in Senate floor procedures.
Report of the Committee on Rules and Administration, 1988. Pursuant to its continual responsibility under Standing Rule XXV to study and report to the Senate on the organization and operation of the Senate, the Rules and Administration Committee in 1988 undertook a study to improve Senate operations, and subsequently reported to the Senate a number of proposals for consideration.
The Committee concluded that a jurisdictional reorganization of the committee system was inappropriate and unnecessary. Further, the Rules Committee determined that problems with the committee system are largely attributable to the sizes of committees and the excessive number of assignments; accordingly, the Committee recommended that the Senate enforce the rules it already has and resist exceptions and waivers to these rules. In regard to schedule conflicts, the Committee recommended that subcommittees conduct only hearings allowing full committees to conduct markups; committees' activities should be scheduled only during certain prescribed time periods in an effort to minimize conflict with floor proceedings. No action was taken on these proposals.
4 Wilson, p.63.
5 Wilson, p. 82.
6 George Galloway, Congress at the Crossroads, (New York: Crowell, 1946), p. 43.
7 Congressional Record, May 21, 1942 (bound edition), p. 4442.
8 Roger Davidson, ``The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946,'' (Legislative Studies Quarterly, XV, Aug., 1990), p. 367.
9 Estes Kefauver, A Twentieth Century Congress, (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1944), pp. 552-557.
10 Roger Davidson, ``Two Avenues of Change: House and Senate Committee Reorganization,'' in Congress Reconsidered, 2d ed., Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer eds., (Washington, DC.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1981.), p. 112.
11 Congressional Record, March 19, 1979 (bound edition), p. 5424.
12 The Stevenson Committee reported an average of 18 assignments per Senator, but other sources indicate an average of 16 assignments. The difference likely is attributed to different methods of counting.
13 S. Res. 127, 98th Congress, Congressional Record (daily ed.), June 6, 1984, p. S6673.