July 21, 2021

ICYMI: Select Committee Holds Hearing on Enhancing Committee Productivity

The hearing featured members of Congress with strong bipartisan track records as well as former committee staff to discuss opportunities to improve committee productivity and collaboration.

Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Vice Chair William Timmons (R-SC) of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Select Committee”) held a hearing titled “Enhancing Committee Productivity.” The hearing featured two panels which included members of Congress, former congressional committee staff, and a congressional scholar to explore opportunities to foster collaboration and productivity in the work of committees.

“Committees are supposed to be the place where important policy work happens on issues of significance to the American people.  But due to conflicting committee schedules, decreased committee capacity, and data that suggests that committees increasingly focus on small-ball issues, less time is spent on the significant policy measures that used to be the bread and butter of committee work,” said Chair Kilmer.  “I am hopeful we can push some solutions to improve the policymaking process and see committees get more done for the American people.”

“Congress has a lot of important work ahead to benefit the American people, yet the loudest voices are being prioritized over the most effective legislators,” said Vice Chair Timmons. “Our committee looks forward to learning from the framework Representatives DeGette and Upton were able to establish that allowed them to work collaboratively and pass significant bipartisan legislation.”

The first panel featured Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) who shared their strategies and lessons from collaboratively working on the landmark bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.

The second panel included Jenness Simler, a former professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee; Warren Payne, a former staff member on the House Committee on Ways and Means, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction; and E. Scott Adler, a professor of Political Science at the University of Colorado, whose research examines congressional agenda setting and committee power within Congress.

You can watch the full hearing HERE.

Background:

In the 116th Congress, the Committee also examined this issue and made a number of recommendations to strengthen committees and encourage greater collaboration including the following:

  • Committees or subcommittees should experiment with alternative hearing formats and alternatives to the five-minute rule for questioning witnesses. 
  • Committees should hire bipartisan staff approved by both the Chair and Ranking Member to promote strong institutional knowledge, evidence-based policy making, and a less partisan oversight agenda. 
  • Committees should hold bipartisan pre-hearing committee meetings. 
  • Encourage pilot rule changes in subcommittees. 
  • At a bipartisan Member retreat (as recommended by the Select Committee) committees should have at least two-thirds of their Members meet separately to determine the committee’s goals for the year, and to discuss how the Members will treat each other in public and in private, and how the committee will treat witnesses during hearings. 
  • Establish committee-based domestic policy congressional delegation trips (CODELs). 
  • Increase capacity for policy staff, especially for Committees, policy support organizations (GAO, CBO, CRS) and a restored OTA, and perhaps restored capacity to member-supporting legislative service organizations, and updated technology resources. Additionally, House support organizations (GAO, CBO, CRS) should evaluate their mission, how they have evolved over time, and if there is a further need to modernize, and incorporate the results of this review in their budget justifications to the Legislative Branch Subcommittee on Appropriations and other relevant committees. 

Read the full transcript of this hearing at the link below:

https://modernizecongress.house.gov/download/enhancing-committee-productivity-through_consensus-building