Committees or subcommittees should experiment with alternative hearing formats and alternatives to the five-minute rule for questioning witnesses.

Too often, committee hearings fail to produce substantive information because Members use the five minutes they’re allotted to make political statements or to ensure that a particular view or assertion goes on the record. Witnesses can also run down the clock by dodging questions or giving longwinded responses. Utilizing extended periods for witness questioning would encourage more substantive dialogue and thoughtful exchanges and discourage political soundbites.

Example alternative hearing formats could include allowing thirty-minute rounds to question witnesses and encourage discourse. For larger committees, groups of Members could be granted thirty-minute blocks and coordinate their questions. Committees could also experiment with formats like seating Members and witnesses at the same table, instead of separating the Members on the dais from witnesses across the room. As this Committee has done, committees could also experiment with seating Members of opposing parties next to each other to encourage dialogue and civility. This Committee, for example, often used a “mixed seating” format during hearings. Such approaches encourage more bipartisan dialogue between Members and signal to the public a willingness to work collaboratively.

Committee chairs and ranking members could encourage use of these alternative formats by agreeing to incorporate them into committee rules.

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