Congress in the United States

Government Oversight

Oversight of the executive branch is an important Congressional check on the President’s power and a balance against his discretion in implementing laws and making regulations.

A major way that Congress conducts oversight is through hearings. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs are both devoted to overseeing and reforming government operations, and each committee conducts oversight in its policy area.

Congress also maintains an investigative organization, the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Founded in 1921 as the General Accounting Office, its original mission was to audit the budgets and financial statements sent to Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Today, the GAO audits and generates reports on every aspect of the government, ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent with the effectiveness and efficiency that the American people deserve.

The executive branch also polices itself: Sixty-four Inspectors General, each responsible for a different agency, regularly audit and report on the agencies to which they are attached.

Members of Congress by Congress

Legal Materials

The main number for the Capitol Building, where both the House and Senate meet, is 202-224-3121. The House and Senate each post committee lists, biographies of current Congress members, calendars, parliamentary rules, etc.

Current and former members of the House and Senate are also listed in theCongressional Directory, which is posted on FDsys. The directory includes former legislators back to the 105th Congress (1997-98). For the most current information, call Washington.

Biographical Information: You can get free biographical information on Congress members from the Congressional Directory, discussed above, from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. If you subscribe, CQ Roll Call offers excellent Member Profiles that include complete election and campaign finance history, plus analysis of and statistics on each member’s voting record. OpenCongress Wiki has biographical info too (including a list of Members of Congress under investigation), but be sure to verify the accuracy of the information. Financial disclosure forms back to 1991 are available on Lexis (LEGIS;MEMFD). Pictures are posted in the Congressional Picture Directory back to the 105th Congress (1996-97), and on current legislator’s web sites (for more try, Google Images). Net worth data and investments are posted by the Center for Responsive Politics in

Current and former members of the House and Senate are also listed in the Congressional Directory, which is posted on FDsys. The directory includes former legislators back to the 105th Congress (1997-98). For the most current information, call Washington.

Committees: Current information, including selected hearing transcripts and/or recordings, is posted by the various House Committees and Senate Committees. For historical background, see An Overview of the Development of U.S. Congressional Committees. For Rules and Procedures, see the House of Representatives and United States Senate entries. See also Congressional Hearings, Congressional Reports andCongressional Committee Prints and/or the “Staff” section of this entry, below.

Documents: House Documents, Senate Documents and Treaty Documents are posted in the Congressional Documents collection on FDsys back to the 99thCongress (1985-86). The House Rules and Manual and Senate Manual are posted on FDsys. “Dear Colleague” letters are available from CQ Roll Call.

News: Congressional news is published in Roll Call, The Hill, The Politico, CQ Weekly, and National Journal. You can sign up for free email newsletters from CQ Roll Call. You can search back issues of Roll Call (1989-Present) and The Hill (1995-Present) through ProQuest Congressional. The print and online editions of National Journal are on Westlaw (NATJNL-ALL).

OpenCongress is a congress-focused wiki that often provides a useful summary of notable topics and sometimes provides the inside scoop.

State Net’s Capitol Journal provides at least one in-depth legislative news story each day for free on its Web site, with searchable archives back to 2004.

Rankings: (formerly Roll Call) adds a “Power Ranking” to the bios it posts of Senators and Representatives. The League of Conservation Voters gives a score of 0 to 100 for each member of Congress based on their environmental record. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) rank the most corrupt members of Congress.

Rules: For the rules of procedure governing the two houses of Congress see “House of Representatives” and/or “United States Senate.”

Salaries: Salaries for U.S. senators, representatives and staffers are posted in the Salary Database compiled by Legistorm.

Sessions: Each session of Congress lasts two years. The Senate posts a chart showing the years covered by the first through the current Congressional sessions. You can also find charts posted by LLSDC and Thomas.

Staff: You can get names, titles, phone numbers and email addresses for Congressional staffers in the National Journal Almanac, the Congressional Staff Directory (CQ) and the Congressional Yellow Book (Leadership Directories). TheAlmanac is available in print and by subscription to the National Journal website. TheCongressional Yellow Book is available online in the The Leadership Library. CQ Roll Call has information on each Congressional member’s staff and district offices. CQ’s First Street tells you which staffers are working on specific issues and legislation.Legistorm tries to provide more in-depth data on staffers including their educational backgrounds, employment histories, social media links, hometowns, hobbies and activities, family connections, etc. ( click here for Legistorm pricing).

See also “Salaries,” above.

Votes: Voting results are posted free back to the 101st Congress (1989-90) on Thomas and back to the 102nd Congress (1991-92) by the Washington Post. You can look up older votes in CCH’s Congressional Index. For nearly real-time vote results, monitor the House and Senate Twitter feeds – see and A HREF=”” target=”_blank”>, respectively.

For more Congress-related resources: Check out and/or Thomas and/or check out the “See Also” entries, below. For sites concerning campaign finance, government contracting and other useful disclosures, see the Our Tools and Web Sites page posted by the Sunlight Foundation.

See Also

Bill Status
Campaign Contributions
Congressional Committee Prints
Congressional Debates
Congressional Districts
Congressional Hearings
Congressional Member Organizations
Congressional Record
Congressional Reports
Congressional Research Service Reports
Congressional Resolutions
Federal Bills
Federal Legislative History
Government Documents
Government Publishing Office (GPO)
House of Representatives
Private Laws
Public Laws
United States Senate

The Federal Courts and Congress and the Federal Courts

In the words of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts: The Constitution gives Congress the power to create federal courts other than the Supreme Court and to determine their jurisdiction. It is Congress, not the judiciary, that controls the type of cases that may be addressed in the federal courts. Congress has three other basic responsibilities that determine how the courts will operate. First, it decides how many judges there should be and where they will work. Second, through the confirmation process, Congress determines which of the President’s judicial nominees ultimately become federal judges. Third, Congress approves the federal courts’ budget and appropriates money for the judiciary to operate. The judiciary’s budget is a very small part—two tenths of one percent—of the entire federal budget.

Powers and Duties of the Houses in Constitutional Law

A list of entries related to Powers and Duties of the Houses may be found, under the Powers and Duties of the Houses category, in the United States constitutional law platform of this legal Encyclopedia.

Finding the law: Congress in the U.S. Code

A collection of general and permanent laws relating to congress, passed by the United States Congress, are organized by subject matter arrangements in the United States Code (U.S.C.; this label examines congress topics), to make them easy to use (usually, organized by legal areas into Titles, Chapters and Sections). The platform provides introductory material to the U.S. Code, and cross references to case law. View the U.S. Code’s table of contents here.

Congress: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Congress. This part provides references, in relation to Congress, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Congress by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Congress and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Congress or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Congress and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Congress. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Congress should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Congress when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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