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Joint Committees on the Organization of Congress: A Short History

Executive Summary

American humorist Will Rogers allegedly quipped, “A politician is just like a pickpocket. It’s almost impossible to get one to reform.” The U.S. Congress, however, has repeatedly disproved this observation. In the 20th century, Congress created three bipartisan joint committees to examine how the institution should be reformed. These panels, which met in 1945-1946, 1965-1966, 1992-1993, examined various aspects of the legislative process (like the committee system and congressional staffing) in an effort to modernize the Congress, improve efficiency and promote transparency.

Some of the reform committees’ proposals were adopted either at the time or even a few years later. The committees’ work resulted in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, and a number of the reforms instituted following the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1995. Although each panel led to some kind of reform of Congress, each effort also received its share of criticisms. One common theme criticism is that the reforms instituted did not go far enough to reshape Congress, particularly its committee system.

Although the joint committees on congressional reform share many similarities, one salient theme is the difficulty of addressing the institution’s flaws. The fact that Congress in some instances resisted the reform committees’ recommendations points to this difficulty. However, at the same time, the fact that many of the committees’ suggestions were later adopted shows the value of creating such panels.

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