Select or special committee

A select or special committee of the United States Congress is a congressional committee appointed to perform a special function that is beyond the authority or capacity of a standing committee. A select committee is usually created by a resolution that outlines its duties and powers and the procedures for appointing members. Select and special committees are often investigative in nature, rather than legislative, though some select and special committees have the authority to draft and report legislation.

A select committee generally expires on completion of its designated duties, though they can be renewed. Several select committees are treated as standing committees by House and Senate rules, and are permanent fixtures in both bodies continuing from one congress to the next. Examples of this are the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House and the Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is also a select committee, though the name select is no longer a part of its title.[1]

Some 20th-century select committees are called special committees, such as the Senate Special Committee on Aging. However, they do not differ in any substantive way from the others.[2]

Prior to the advent of permanent standing committees in the early 19th century, the House of Representatives relied almost exclusively on select committees to carry out much of its legislative work.[3] The committee system has grown and evolved over the years. During the earliest Congresses, select committees, created to perform a specific function and terminated when the task was completed, performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work. The first committee to be established by Congress was on April 2, 1789, during the First Congress. It was a select committee assigned to prepare and report standing rules and orders for House proceedings, and it lasted just five days, dissolving after submitting its report to the full House. Since that time, Congress has always relied on committees as a means to accomplish its work.[2]

Early select committees

In the 1st Congress (1789–1791), the House appointed roughly 220 select committees over the course of two years.[3] By the 3rd Congress (1793–95), Congress had three permanent standing committees, the House Committee on Elections, the House Committee on Claims, and the Joint Committee on Enrolled Bills, but more than 350 select committees.[4] While the modern committee system is now firmly established in both House and Senate procedure, with the rules of each House establishing a full range of permanent standing committees and assigning jurisdiction of all legislative issues among them, select committees continue to be used to respond to unique and difficult issues as the need arises.[2]

The United States Senate did not establish its first standing committees until 1816, so select committees performed the overwhelming majority of the committee work for the Senate during the earliest Congresses. Like the House, standing committees have largely replaced select committees in the modern Senate, but select committees continue to be appointed from time to time.[5]

Early select committees were very fluid, serving their established function and then going out of existence. This makes tracking committees difficult, since many committees were known by the date they were created or by a petition or other document that had been referred to them. In a number of instances, the official journal and other congressional publications did not consistently refer to an individual committee by the same title. Though such inconsistencies still appeared during the 20th century, they were less frequent.[2]

Notable select committees

Henry Clay, Chairman of the Select Committee on the Various Propositions for the Admission of Missouri into the Union

While earlier select committees often narrowly tailored to specific issues, some select committees ultimately had a noticeable impact on federal legislation and American history. One was the select committee dealing with Missouri's admission as a new state.[3] The committee was established in 1821 and lasted just 7 days.[6] Chaired by Henry Clay,[3] the committee helped draft the Missouri Compromise, which attempted to resolve the question of whether slavery would be permitted in newly admitted states.

Some select committees went on to become permanent standing committees. The most notable of these is the Ways and Means Committee. It was first established as a select committee July 24, 1789 during a debate on the creation of the Treasury Department. Representatives had concerns over giving the new department too much authority over revenue proposals, so the House felt it would be better equipped if it established a committee to handle the matter. This first Committee on Ways and Means had 11 members and existed for just two months. It later became a standing committee in 1801, and still operates as a standing committee today.[7]

In the 21st century

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was established during the 110th Congress and renewed for the 111th Congress. The committee was advisory in nature, and lacked the legislative authority granted to standing committees.[8] The Committee was disbanded by the House in 2011 following Republican victories at the 2010 mid-terms[8]

The House of Representatives voted on May 8th, 2014 to create a special select committee to investigate what happened during the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi.[9]

See also


  1. Vincent, Carol Hardy; Elizabeth Rybicki (February 1, 1996). "Committee Numbers, Sizes, Assignments, and Staff: Selected Historical Data" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Schamel, Charles E.; Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. (1989). "Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition". National Archives and Records Administration. pp. Chapter 22. Retrieved 2009-02-13. Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  3. 1 2 3 4 Canon, David T.; Garrison Nelson; Charles Stewart III (2002). Committees in the U.S. Congress: 1789-1946. Vol 4, Select Committees. Washington, DC: CQ Press. ISBN 1-56802-175-5.
  4. Galloway, George B. (1946). Congress at the Crossroads. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co. p. 88.
  5. Coren, Robert W.; Mary Rephlo; David Kepley; Charles South (1989). "Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition". National Archives and Records Administration. pp. Chapter 18. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  6. Stubbs, Walter (1985). Congressional Committees, 1789-1982: A Checklist. Greenwood Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-313-24539-8.
  7. H. Doc. 100-244, The Committee on Ways and Means a Bicentennial History 1789-1989, page 3
  8. 1 2 Pelosi, Dingell Compromise in House Over Climate Issue, Associated Press, Fox News website February 7, 2007
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