Committees are groups of Members appointed to investigate, debate, and report on legislation. While they are not mentioned in the Constitution, committees have become an important part of the legislative process since their introduction during the first Congress in 1789. Created to help Members organize their work, committees were temporary in those early Congresses. Over time, the amount of legislation considered by the U.S. House of Representatives increased and committees became a permanent way for Members to divide their work.
There are five different types of committees—standing committees, subcommittees, select committees, joint committees, and the Committee of the Whole.
The most common type of committee, standing committees consider bills and other legislation that is before the U.S. House of Representatives. When a bill is introduced on the House floor, it is assigned a bill number and sent to a standing committee by the Speaker of the House. There are currently 20 standing committees, each covering a different area of public policy. A complete list of committees is available on the Office of the Clerk website.
While in committee, a bill is reviewed, researched, and revised. Committee members may hold a committee hearing to receive testimony and view evidence to gather as much information as possible about the bill. Once the committee members are satisfied with the bill, they vote on whether or not to report it to the House floor for consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives.
Each Member, Delegate, and Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives serves on two standing committees. Committee assignments are given at the start of each new Congress. Members can request to serve on specific committees. Returning Members usually keep their committee assignments from the previous Congress because they have expertise and seniority.
A special “committee on committees” matches the Members’ requests with the available committee positions. These assignments are approved by the majority and minority parties before being brought before the full Chamber for approval. Once assigned to a committee, Members must develop expertise in the committee’s content area, vote on motions, prepare and vote on amendments, decide whether or not to report bills to the House floor, and write committee reports and studies.
Many committees, usually standing committees, have smaller subcommittees within them. The members of these subcommittees have expertise in a specific part of a committee’s area of public policy. Like standing committees, subcommittees hold hearings, conduct research, and revise bills. Subcommittees report bills back to the full committee rather than the House floor.
Select committees are temporary committees created with a timeline to complete a specific task, like investigating government activity. Rather than researching and reporting bills to the House floor, they research specific issues or oversee government agencies. These guidelines don’t apply to all select committees, however.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was established on July 14, 1977 to oversee the CIA, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, FBI, and Treasury—and it still exists today. Also unlike other select committees, it considers bills and reports them back to the House floor.
Joint committees include Members from both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Joint committees debate and report on matters concerning the Congress rather than issues of public policy. Because they consider only matters affecting the Congress, such as organizing the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies, they do not consider legislation or report on legislation to either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.
Committee of the Whole
The Committee is a way to move legislation through to the House floor for a vote quickly. The Committee of the Whole is able to debate bills more efficiently than the full U.S. House of Representatives because it requires a smaller quorum—only 100 members versus the 218 required of the full House.
The U.S. House of Representatives resolves to the Committee of the Whole when the Speaker of the House passes a resolution setting the guidelines for considering the bill before it. The Committee of the Whole debates the bill, then rises and reports its activities to the U.S. House of Representatives, which then votes on the legislation.