With all of the activity in the U.S. House of Representatives, it takes many people to keep things running smoothly. The Founding Fathers provided for that by stating in the U.S. Constitution that the House should have administrative officers, including the Clerk and the Sergeant at Arms.
The Clerk serves as the chief legislative official of the House. The Clerk is responsible for supervising important administrative business, including keeping track of all votes taken on the House Floor, organizing the House at the beginning of each Congress, overseeing the House Floor, and maintaining the official records of the House.
The Clerk’s title and duties originated with the British House of Commons. Many countries, including Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and Nigeria, also have Clerks to maintain records and oversee legislative activities in their governments.
The first Clerk, Virginian John J. Beckley, Esq., was elected on April 1, 1789 at the beginning of the first U.S. Congress. Since then, more than 30 people have served as Clerk.
The Clerk serves a two-year term and is elected, along with other House officers, at the beginning of each new Congress. There is no limit to the number of terms that a Clerk can serve. The Clerk, like other House officers, has minimal political influence.
At the beginning of each new Congress, the House agrees to the Rules of the House. In addition to stating all of the official rules, the Rules describe the duties of the House officers. According to these rules, the Clerk is responsible for:
- Calling Members to order and taking attendance on the first day of Congress
- Keeping the official record of all votes that occur on the House Floor
- Preparing, printing, and giving out:
- The official list of elected Members of the House of Representatives
- A list of Congressional official reports
- The House Journal
- Attaching the official seal of the House to all official House documents
- Receiving messages from the President of the United States and U.S. Senate when the House is not in session
- Preparing and delivering messages from the House to the Senate
- Managing vacant House offices until new Members are elected
- Certifying the passage of all House bills and Joint Resolutions
- Maintaining the display of fine art in the House wing of the U.S. Capitol, House Office Buildings, and other locations under the authority of the House
- Printing and handing out the calendars of House Floor activity
- Managing the House Page Program.
This may sound like a lot of work for one person, but the Clerk has a team of people to help get the job done, including lawyers, historians, librarians, writers, graphic designers, web developers, computer specialists, and administrative specialists.
The Clerk Today
Karen L. Haas is the 34th Clerk of the House of Representatives. This is her second occupancy of this position. She served during the 109th–110th Congresses.
Ms. Haas began her service on Capitol Hill in 1984, when she worked for then-Minority Leader Robert H. Michel. She attended public schools in Maryland and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a major in Political Science and a minor in Economics.