Posts tagged ‘oral testimony’

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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Adhering to Time Limits for Congressional Testimony

When preparing to give oral testimony before Congress , there are several rules and protocols you should be prepared to follow. One of these is the time limits for oral testimony.

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Time restrictions for witness testimony are often found in committee rules. The usual rule is five minutes, but in some cases committees allow for additional time, depending on the witness, the nature of the hearing and the issue. In most cases, the committee will allow up to ten minutes for additional testimony, but committee chairs do have some discretion regarding the allowance of more time based on the circumstances.

Generally, the committee staff will advise witnesses prior to the Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgehearing of their time limit. However, it is the responsibility of witnesses to consult the committee rules and check with committee staff before the hearing to be certain they understand the time restraints. It is better to ask ahead of time and be sure you know how much time will be available than to prepare testimony that will be too lengthy and time consuming.

There is usually a clock on the witness to assist witnesses in keeping track of time. There may also be a light system that is used for signaling time: the green light indicates the witness should proceed, a yellow light announces that time is about to expire, and a red light means the specified amount of time has ended. A committee staff member operates the time keeping device from the dais.

In the event that additional time is needed, the witness can request an additional minute or two, but no more. Committee chairs can enforce time limits strictly or be lenient. In order to be fair to all witnesses most committee chairs try to strike a balance between strict enforcement and leniency.

For more information on giving testimony before Congress, consider TheCapitol.Net’s workshop Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony. We also offer custom on-site testifying training.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 2.96 Time Limits for Oral Testimony

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The Role of the Briefing Book in Congressional Testimony

Researching and preparing to deliver testimony before Congress is a process that takes quite a bit of time and groundwork. There are many elements that can assist you in the process, including preparing a briefing book. A briefing book commonly is comprised of research materials, documents and other materials that assist you during the hearing. It can be particularly helpful when used as a quick reference tool when you are questioned by the committee.

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Along with basic documents and research, the briefing book should contain prepared answers to potential questions that may be asked of you during the hearing. You might include other resources that you might need to quickly access during the hearing, such as relevant statistics and lists.

Other items in the briefing book can include a copy of your testimony, an executive summary, background materials and research and committee information. Some people also choose to include a copy of the invitation to testify from the committee and handouts such as charts and graphs, biographies of committee members, and travel itinerary and scheduling information for the witness. To make the briefing book more accessible and helpful, you can use tabs for easy reference.

If you opt to use a briefing book during the hearing, place it on the table in front of you or slightly to the side. Include the use of the Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgematerials in your witness rehearsal to ensure you are completely familiar with the briefing book ahead of time. As a prospective witness, practice locating and referring to the contents of your briefing book during your rehearsal. This allows you to develop the ability to use your briefing book naturally, with speed and ease during the actual hearing.

Your rehearsals should include the use of the briefing book while delivering oral testimony and while answering questions that might be posed by the committee.

For more information on preparing effective Congressional testimony, consider our 1-day course Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony. We also offer custom, on-site testifying training.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 3.19 Important Documents: Drafting the Statement and Making the Record-The Briefing Book; Section 4.23 Witness Rehearsal of Oral Testimony and Answers to Questions-Operating with the Use of a Briefing Book

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