High School Home :: What Is Congress? > Member Committees
Committees are groups of Members appointed to investigate, debate, and report on matters of Congress and legislation. Although not mentioned in the Constitution, committees were adopted in 1789, during the first Congress, and have become an important part of the legislative process.
There are five types of committees—standing committees, subcommittees, select committees, joint committees, and the Committee of the Whole.
Early Congresses used temporary committees to help Members organize their work into categories. Over time, the number of laws proposed increased and standing committees—permanent panels of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives that make and debate laws—replaced temporary committees.
Once a bill has been introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives, its bill number is designated and the Speaker of the House assigns it to the appropriate standing committee. There are currently 20 standing committees, each covering a different area of public policy:
- Committee on Agriculture
- Committee on Appropriations
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on the Budget
- Committee on Education and the Workforce
- Committee on Ethics
- Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Committee on Financial Services
- Committee on Foreign Affairs
- Committee on Homeland Security
- Committee on House Administration
- Committee on the Judiciary
- Committee on Natural Resources
- Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
- Committee on Rules
- Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
- Committee on Small Business
- Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
- Committee on Veterans' Affairs
- Committee on Ways and Means
Occasionally a bill may be assigned to a different type of committee; however standing committees are the most common.
While in a standing committee, a bill may undergo rigorous review, research, and revision. Members of the standing committee may hold a committee hearing where they are informed by experts, question witnesses, view exhibits or photographs, examine material evidence, or observe demonstrations in order to gather information about a bill. Once satisfied with a bill’s content, the committee votes to report the bill to the House floor or let it die.
Each Member, Delegate, and Resident Commissioner of the U.S. House of Representatives serves on two standing committees. Member committee assignments are made through a three step process:
- Step 1: Member Request
At the beginning of a new Congress, Members request assignments to the committees they prefer. The incumbent Members usually keep the committee assignments they have because they have expertise and seniority.
- Step 2: Party Approval
Each political party has a special committee responsible for committee assignments. This “committee on committees” matches the Member requests with available committee seats, prepares and approves an assignment slate for each committee, and submits all slates to the full party. The full party meets to approve the recommendations.
- Step 3: Full Chamber Approval
Each committee, now made up of members from each political party, submits its slate to the full Chamber for approval. When a committee member resigns or is assigned to another committee, all of Congress is notified.
Once Members are assigned to a standing committee, they are responsible for developing expertise in the committee’s subject matter and attending committee meetings and hearings. While in committee meetings, Members vote on motions and amendments, and decide whether or not to report bills to the House floor. They also write committee reports and studies, and prepare amendments to bills that are under the committee’s consideration.
Many committees—generally standing committees, although there are exceptions—have smaller subcommittees within them. The members of these subcommittees have expertise in a specific segment of a committee’s area of public policy. Subcommittees have similar responsibilities to standing committees—they hold hearings, conduct research, and revise bills—but they report bills back to the committee rather than to the House floor.
Similar to the temporary committees of early Congresses, select committees are established with a specific timeline to complete a specific task, such as investigating government activity. The timeline can be extended if necessary. Select committees typically do not report bills back to the House floor. There are, however, exceptions to this.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was established on July 14th 1977 by House Resolution 658. It is tasked with overseeing the CIA, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, FBI, and Treasury. Unlike other select committees, it does consider legislation and reports bills to the House floor.
Select committees include:
Joint committees are comprised of Members from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Tasked with debating and reporting on matters concerning the Congress rather than issues of public policy, joint committees do not consider legislation or report on legislation to either house of Congress.
Current joint committees include:
Committee of the Whole
The Committee of the Whole, a committee on which all Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serve, is a mechanism for quickly moving legislation through to the House floor for a vote. The Committee of the Whole allows for faster debate because it requires a smaller quorum, 100 Members versus the 218 Members required for the U.S. House of Representatives to debate a bill.
To resolve to the Committee of the Whole, the Speaker of the House and the Rules Committee pass a resolution setting the guidelines for considering the bill. The Committee of the Whole debates the bill using the guidelines outlined by the Rules Committee before rising and reporting its activities to the U.S. House of Representatives.
To learn more about the Committee of the Whole visit the Library of Congress’s How our Laws are Made.