What Is Congress?

House Officers

According to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. House of Representatives should choose its Speaker and other officers on the first day of each new Congress. The Constitution does not, however, identify the officers’ titles or duties. Over time the officers have come to include the Clerk of the House, Sergeant at Arms, Chief Administrative Officer, and Chaplain. Their responsibilities cover legislation, security, administration, and pastoral guidance.

Clerk of the House

The Clerk is the chief legislative officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. House of Representatives has elected a Clerk since the First Congress (1789–1791).

The Clerk has many responsibilities. At the start of each new Congress, the Clerk presides over the U.S. House of Representatives until the Speaker is elected. The Clerk’s responsibilities during that first day include calling the roll, certifying newly elected Members, maintaining order and decorum, and deciding on all questions of order. Throughout the Congress, the Clerk certifies the passage of all House bills and joint resolutions, receives messages from the President and Senate, and attests and affixes the House seal to all formal documents issued by the House. The Clerk also maintains the House Journal, and distributes it to the House membership at the end of each session; and keeps and archives historical records of the U.S. House of Representatives. To learn more about the current Clerk of the House, visit Meet the Clerk.

House Sergeant at Arms

The Sergeant at Arms is the chief law enforcement and protocol officer for the U.S. House of Representatives. The role of House Sergeant at Arms dates back to the first Congress (1789–1791).

As head law enforcement officer, the Sergeant at Arms is responsible for security in the House wing of the Capitol, House office buildings, and the surrounding grounds. As part of this duty, the Sergeant at Arms ensures the safety and security of Members of Congress, congressional staff, visiting national and foreign dignitaries, and tourists. The Sergeant at Arms also maintains order and decorum in the House Chamber, including holding the mace—the symbol of the Sergeant at Arms’ authority—before unruly Members, and carrying the mace down the aisles of the House Chamber to subdue rowdy House sessions.

As chief protocol officer, the Sergeant at Arms leads formal processions at ceremonial events, such as presidential inaugurations, joint sessions, and formal addresses to the Congress. The Sergeant at Arms greets and escorts foreign dignitaries, and supervises congressional funeral arrangements.

Chief Administrative Officer

The newest of the House officers, the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer was established at the beginning of the 104th Congress (1995–1997). The office was created to provide the basic facilities and services to support Member offices and committees.

The Chief Administrative Officer oversees human resources— including managing employee payroll and benefits, child care, and parking—technology, procurement, and facilities management. The Chief Administrative Officer also oversees House dining services, gift shops, and the House Recording Studio.

House Chaplain

The Chaplain performs ceremonial, symbolic, and pastoral duties in the House. Although the Chaplain was not considered an officer of Congress until the mid-19th century, a Chaplain has been elected since the first Congress (1789–1791). Chosen as individuals, Chaplains are not representatives of any specific church or religious body.

The Chaplain opens the daily House sessions with a prayer and serves as a spiritual counselor to Members, their families, and staff. Chaplains also conduct a variety of group sessions including Bible studies, discussion groups, and prayer meetings for Members, family of Members, and staff.