Posts tagged ‘congressional hearings’

Congressional Oversight and Investigative Hearings

Although there are many different types of congressional hearings, some of the most well known and often discussed in the media are oversight and investigative hearings. Such hearings may be conducted whenever a committee chooses to do so, although they are often conducted in association with a public policy question or an accountability matter. Oversight hearings can also be combined with authorization or legislative hearings, particularly whenever there is a routine review of a federal program.

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In many ways, the oversight function of Congress is like a quality control study. Oversight and investigative hearings can include periodic and selective reviews of federal agencies and departments as well as their policies, activities and programs. This especially relates to the way in which federal laws, programs and regulations are administered. Oversight hearings can focus on federal program quality.

The goal of an oversight hearing is typically to ensure that the agencies of the executive branch are administering federal programs in the way that Congress intended. Such hearings can also be used for the purpose of correcting behavior of the executive branch. Congress may utilize oversight hearings to enhance the effectiveness, responsiveness and efficiency of government operations and programs while also working to identify and eliminate fraud and abuse. Overall, oversight hearings form an effective tool for congressional committees to scrutinize the implementation of programs and laws by the executive branch.

The focus of investigative hearings usually involves the Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgesuspicion or the suggestion of wrongdoing within governmental ranks. In some cases, it can even involve possible allegations of a criminal nature. Investigative hearings are similar in many ways to other types of congressional hearings; however, a major difference involves the focus on wrongdoing or a breach of responsibility. Congress, as well as congressional committees, have quite a broad authority related to investigatory hearings. Problems that are uncovered during an investigative hearing can often lead to new legislation that may relate to federal funding or result in referral to a federal or state court.

Some of the most famous examples of congressional investigations include the Titanic investigation of 1912, the Teapot Dome scandal investigation, the Army-McCarthy Hearings in 1954, the Watergate investigation in the early 70s and the Iran-Contra investigation in 1987.

To learn more about preparing to testify before Congress, consider attending our workshop Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony, also available for custom, on-site training.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 1.56 Oversight and Investigative Hearings.


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How Witnesses Are Selected to Testify Before Congress

In many instances, witnesses who testify before Congress were invited to do so. In other cases, witnesses have offered to testify. The other ways in which witnesses are selected to testify before Congress are by recommendation and under subpoena.

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On occasion, congressional committees consider or request recommendations made by individuals and organizations in the public and private sectors. Committees are primarily interested in selecting witnesses that are able to provide unique or special knowledge, background, expertise or perspectives. Prior to actually inviting a witness to testify, the committee will occasionally cast a wide net to be certain they are selecting the most effective witnesses regarding the subject matter of the hearing.

Generally, the majority of witnesses who appear before a congressionalTestifying Before Congress, by William LaForge hearing have been invited by the committee chair or sometimes by the ranking minority chair. Many witnesses who appear before a committee hearing have requested to testify and their appearance is considered to be both an opportunity and a privilege.

In some cases, a committee may believe a prospective witness is able to provide needed perspective on an issue but who might not agree to appear before the committee voluntarily. Committees may compel the appearance of witnesses through the issuance of a subpoena. The authority for the subpoena power in the House of Representatives is Rule XI, clause 2(m) and in the Senate, Rule XXVI, paragraph 1. Committees also have the power to subpoena records and documents that may be associated with any compelled testimony of a witness who has been subpoenaed.

The issuance of a subpoena requires either a majority approval by members of the committee or a decision of the chair, based on committee rules. For the most part, subpoenas are issued rarely and when they are issued they are typically associated with investigative hearings.

To learn more about testifying before Congress, see TheCapitol.Net’s course Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony and its Capitol Learning Audio Course, Tips, Tactics & Techniques for Writing Congressional Testimony.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Sections 2.26-2.27 Selection of Witnesses


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The 7 Types of Congressional Hearings

If you have been called to testify before a Congressional hearing or think that you might be called to do so in the future, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of the various types of Congressional hearings and their purposes.

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The main purpose of any Congressional hearing is to obtain information from witnesses that will be beneficial to the committee regarding its work on legislation or other matters. There are actually many different types of Congressional hearings. The seven main types of Congressional hearings include:

  • Legislative Hearings
  • Budget and Appropriations Hearings
  • Oversight and Investigative Hearings
  • Senate Advice and Consent Hearings-Nominations, Confirmations and Treaties
  • Field Hearings
  • Showcasing, Publicity, Celebrity and Grandstanding Hearings
  • Public or Open Hearings and Closed or Classified Hearings

Generally, Congressional hearings will be conducted inside the U.S. Capitol complex, which includes the Capitol building as well as the Senate and House office buildings adjacent to the Capitol building. Each year hundreds of hearings are held by each chamber of Congress. The purpose and the number of hearings are at the prerogative of each individual committee.

Legislative hearings are intended to help committees review legislative proposals or to sometimes add new law to or modify the United States Code.

Budget and appropriations hearings are conducted for the purpose of reviewing the president’s budget requests. They are conducted by the House and the Senate Budget Committees.

Oversight and investigative hearings may be conducted anytime there is a public policy question or a question regarding government action or accountability.

Senate advice and consent hearings are held for the purpose of considering and passing judgment regarding presidential nominations for U.S. diplomatic posts, cabinet positions, federal judges and treaties with foreign countries.

Field hearings are hearings conducted outside of Washington. These hearings may focus on a particular regional issue. They are usually utilized for responding to some type of crisis or emergency.

Showcasing, publicity, celebrity and grandstanding hearings typically involve some type of unique or controversial issue. They are commonly utilized for drawing attention to a particular issue. A celebrity hearing will often involve the testimony of a celebrity witness.

Public or open hearings are open to the public – most Congressional hearings are open. Hearings that are typically closed to the public include those that may involve matters of national security, certain foreign policy issues or matters involving rules of the Senate or House that Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgemay have been violated.

To learn more about Congressional hearings, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course in Washington, DC: Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process; or their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.

Reference: Section 1.50-the Purposes and Types of Congressional Hearings, in Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge


For more information about presentation and testifying training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources: