United States House of Representatives
|Chair||Elijah Cummings (D) |
Since January 3, 2019
|Ranking member||Jim Jordan (R) |
Since January 3, 2019
|Vice chair||Katie Hill (D) |
Since January 3, 2019
|Political parties||Majority (24)
|This article is part of a series on the|
|United States House|
History of the United States|
House of Representatives
|Politics and procedure|
The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the main investigative committee of the United States House of Representatives.
The committee's broad jurisdiction and legislative authority make it one of the most influential and powerful panels in the House. Its chairman is one of only three in the House with the authority to issue subpoenas without a committee vote or consultation with the ranking member. However, in recent history, it has become practice to refrain from unilateral subpoenas.
The panel now known as the Committee on Oversight and Reform was originally the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, created in 1927 to consolidate 11 separate Committees on Expenditures that had previously overseen the spending of various departments of the federal government.
The modern-day committee's immediate predecessor, the Committee on Government Operations, was established in 1952. The new name was intended to reflect the committee's broad mission: to oversee "the operations of Government activities at all levels with a view to determining their economy and efficiency".
After Republicans gained control of the House in the 1994 elections, the committee was reorganized to include seven subcommittees instead of 14. This reorganization consolidated the jurisdiction previously covered by three full committees and resulted in a 50 percent cut in staff. In 2007, a reorganization under a new Democratic majority combined the duties of the seven subcommittees into five.
In the 106th Congress, the panel was renamed the Committee on Government Reform. While retaining the agenda of the former Committee on Government Operations, the new committee also took on the responsibilities of the former House Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service and the Committee on the District of Columbia. On January 4, 2007, the 110th Congress renamed it the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The name was changed again by the 116th Congress to its current iteration: the Committee on Oversight and Reform. Since 2007, it has been called the "Oversight Committee" for short.
In 1997, the Republican majority on the committee changed its rules to allow the chairman, Dan Burton (R-Indiana), to issue subpoenas without the consent of the committee's ranking Democrat. From 1997 to 2002, Burton used this authority to issue 1,052 unilateral subpoenas, many of them related to alleged misconduct by President Bill Clinton, at a cost of more than $35 million.
After Republicans retook the House in the 2010 elections, the new chairman, Darrell Issa (R-California), escalated the use of subpoenas again, issuing more than 100 in four years during the Obama administration. That was more than the combined total issued by the previous three chairmen—Davis, Henry Waxman (D-California), and Edolphus Towns (D-New York)—from 2003 to 2010.
Between 2000 and 2006, many major events and scandals in the Bush administration generated few or no subpoenas from the Republican-led committee. These events included the September 11 attacks; the leaking of classified information identifying Central Intelligence Agency agent Valerie Plame; CIA-backed abuses and war crimes at Abu Ghraib prison; the emergence of evidence that the Bush administration had knowingly lied in claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction; illegal campaign contributions by lobbyists, including Jack Abramoff; thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in preventable damage due to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's weak response to Hurricane Katrina; and Philip Cooney's suppression of accepted scientific data demonstrating the existence of global warming. After the release of the Downing Street memo, which contained incriminating information on the buildup to the Iraq War, Democrats in the minority were refused a hearing chamber and were forced to meet in the basement of the United States Capitol.
However, under Davis's chairmanship from 2003–2007, the committee launched two controversial investigations. One of those investigations—triggered by the publication of Jose Canseco's memoir, Juiced—concerned the use of anabolic steroids by Major League Baseball players. The other was an inquiry into the Terri Schiavo case.
In that investigation, which concerned the removal of a feeding tube from a woman in a persistent vegetative state, the committee issued a subpoena requiring Schiavo to "appear" so that members could "examine nutrition and hydration which incapacitated patients receive as part of their care". The apparent objective of this, beyond providing information to committee members, was to delay the pending withdrawal of life support from Schiavo, whose wishes were in dispute, while Congress considered legislation specifically targeted at her case. Members of the Democratic minority opposed the action. Chairman Davis said it was "a legitimate legislative inquiry".
On July 8, 2009, committee Republicans released an investigative staff report discussing the financial crisis of 2007–2008. The report alleged that the government had caused the collapse by meddling in the United States' housing and lending market in the name of "affordable housing".
In February 2012, the committee held a hearing on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's mandate that would "require all employers to cover birth control free of cost to women". Specifically, Republicans on the committee alleged that the Department of Health and Human Services's rules governing exemptions for religious institutions violated the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution. The chairman, Darrell Issa, said the hearing was "meant to be more broadly about religious freedom and not specifically about the contraception mandate in the Health Reform law".
After Aaron Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013, the committee investigated the Justice Department’s actions in prosecuting Swartz on hacking charges. On January 28, Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings published a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, questioning whether prosecutors had intentionally added felony counts to increase the amount of prison time Swartz faced.
|National Security||Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA)||Jody Hice (R-GA)|
|Government Operations||Gerry Connolly (D-VA)||Mark Meadows (R-NC)|
|Economic and Consumer Policy||Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL)||Michael Cloud (R-TX)|
|Civil Rights and Civil Liberties||Jamie Raskin (D-MD)||Chip Roy (R-TX)|
|Environment||Harley Rouda (D-CA)||James Comer (R-KY)|
|William Williamson||Republican||South Dakota||1927–1931|
|John J. Cochran||Democratic||Missouri||1931–1940|
|James A. O'Leary||Democratic||New York||1940–1944|
|William L. Dawson||Democratic||Illinois||1949–1953|
|William L. Dawson||Democratic||Illinois||1955–1970|
|Chester E. Holifield||Democratic||California||1970–1974|
|William F. Clinger||Republican||Pennsylvania||1995–1997|
|Edolphus Towns||Democratic||New York||2009–2011|
|Trey Gowdy||Republican||South Carolina||2017–2019|