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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Congressional Commissions: Overview, interspace Structure, and Legislative Considerations

Matthew Eric Glassman
Analyst on the Congress

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

Congressional advisory commissions are formal groups established to provide independent  advice; make recommendations for changes in public policy; study or investigate a particular  problemi, issue, or event; or perform a duty. While no legal definition exists for what constitutes a “congressional commission,” in this report a congressional commission is defined as a multi- member independent entity that (1) is established by Congress, (2) exists temporarily, (3) serves  in an advisory capacity, (4) is appointed in part or whole by Members of Congress, and (5)  reports to Congress. These five characteristics differentiate a congressional commission from a  presidential commission, an executive branch commission, or other bodies with “commission” in  their names. Over 90 congressional commissions have been established since 1989.

Throughout American history, Congress has found commissions to be useful entities in the  legislative process. By establishing a commission, Congress can potentially provide a highly  visible forum for important issues and assemble greater expertise than may be readily available  within the legislature. Complex policy issues can be examined over a longer time period and in  greater depth than may be practical for legislators. Finally, the non-partisan or bipartisan  character of most congressional commissions may make their findings and recommendations  more politically acceptable, both in Congress and among the public. Critics argue that many  congressional commissions are expensive, often formed to take difficult decisions out of the  hands of Congress, and are mostly ignored when they report their findings and recommendations.

The temporary status of congressional commissions and short time period they are often given to  complete their work product makes it important that legislators craft statutes creating  congressional commissions with care. A wide variety of options are available, and legislators can tailor the composition, organization, and working arrangements of a commission, based on the  particular goals of Congress. As a result, individual congressional commissions often have an  organizational structure and powers quite different from one another.

This report provides an overview and analysis of congressional advisory commissions,  information on the general statutory structure of a congressional commission, and a catalog of congressional commissions created since the 101st Congress.  

Date of Report: February 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R40076
Price: $29.95

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