April 26, 2010
In our continuing effort to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, we now present a brief discussion concerning how to obtain committee reports found on THOMAS, and how that information can be helpful.
When a piece of legislation is introduced, it is assigned to one - or possibly more - committees that have jurisdiction over the area the bill seeks to address. For example, most bills that concern veterans' benefits or the Department of Veterans Affairs will be assigned to the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Usually, a committee will then assign the bill to a subcommittee for further examination. That examination process usually includes public hearings and private meetings between members of Congress, their staffs and government officials. This process may take as little as a few weeks, or as long as several months.
Once a measure has been examined, deliberated upon, and poked and prodded by the subcommittee and the full committee, the bill will either be approved or disapproved by the full committee. If the bill is voted down - sometimes, but not always, by a roll call vote of the committee members - it will be sent back to the subcommittee for further study and consideration. If this happens, it is not likely that a bill will emerge from the subcommittee or full committee for full deliberation by the chamber.
If, however, the full committee approves a bill, it is then sent to the House or Senate for further action. When this occurs, a committee report is prepared by the House or Senate committee. A committee report will explain the content of the bill being reported. It also contains a committee's recommendation after a bill has been studied, hearings have been held, and amendments have been made.
A committee report contains the views of committee members on the bill, a cost-impact analysis, and will compare the bill to current law, or sometimes to similar legislation that has already been introduced in the chamber. Most bills die in committee, and for these bills there is no report. Committee reports provide an excellent source for legislative intent and are often considered the most important document in a legislative history. They include the general intent of committee members, as well as opposing statements by legislators who disagree with a bill. Reports will frequently contain a section-by-section analysis of the proposed legislation.
The creation of a committee report is optional in the Senate, but in the House it is a mandatory process. Committee reports can be as short as three to five pages, or as long as several hundred, depending upon the subject of the bill and the amount of analysis put into the drafting process.
Finding committee reports on THOMAS can be accomplished in one of two ways. If you know the number of the committee report, you can go to the direct link on THOMAS. On the left side of the THOMAS homepage are several links, among them is "Committee Reports." Clicking on that link will take you to a separate Web page dedicated solely to committee reports. Part of the way down the page you will see the heading, "Search Committee Reports."
You will see a drop-down menu, with the choices "Word/Phrase" or "Report Number." Again, if you know the report number, choose "Report Number," type in the number in the space next to the drop-down menu, then either press "Enter" on your keyboard or click the "Search" button at the bottom of the Web page. You will then receive a listing of committee reports with the number you requested.
If you don't know the number of the committee report, you can still find it on the "Committee Reports" Web page. Just above the heading "Search Committee Reports" is another heading entitled, "Browse Committee Reports By:" which shows four options with links: House, Senate, Conference, or Joint. By clicking on one of these links, you will be shown a complete list of all committee reports published. You can then search for the committee report you wish to see.
Another way of finding a committee report involves using the "Search Bill Summary and Status" on the main Web page of THOMAS. Go to the summary and status page for the bill you are concerned with. On the bill's summary and status page, click on the "All Congressional Actions" link. In the listing of all the action on your particular bill will be a phrase which will read something similar to the following: "The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs reported an original measure,..." after which will be a committee report number as a hyperlink. Clicking on that link will take you to a page dedicated to that committee report.