Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 11

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Chapter 11. Records of the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Related Committees, 1842-1968

Records of the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Related Committees, 1842-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Related Committees, 1842-1986 (1639 ft.)

11.1 The Committee on Government Operations, which throughout the 1950's and 1960's was, through its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, an extraordinarily powerful and influential investigative body, had its origin in relatively minor 19th- and early 20th-century standing and select committees. The earliest standing committee solely concerned with Government expenditures was the Committee on Retrenchment, established in 1842. The Retrenchment Committee was active intermittently in the 1840's and 1850's, expired at the end of the 34th Congress (1857), and was not replaced until after the Civil War. In 1866, the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to establish the Joint Select Committee on Retrenchment to reduce Government expenditures. The joint select committee expired at the end of the 41st Congress (1871). On December 14, 1871, during the 2d session of the 42d Congress, the Senate established the Committee on Investigation and Retrenchment, at least in part because a majority of Senators wished to restore to their deliberations and investigations, the independence that they had relinquished under the joint select committee. The major targets of the investigations conducted by the committee were graft and corruption in the operations of the New York City customshouse. The committee was terminated on March 3, 1873, at the end of the 42d Congress.

11.2 The direct line of succession begins in 1899 with the establishment of the Committee on Organization, Conduct, and Expenditures in Executive Departments, first chaired by Louis E. McComas of Maryland. By a resolution of December 15, 1907, this committee was replaced, effective July 1, 1908, by the Select Committee on Expenditures in the Department of State. At the beginning of the 61st Congress (1909), a procedural move initiated by Nelson Aldrich of New York to change numerous select committees into standing committees resulted in the select committee becoming the standing Committee on Expenditures in the Department of State, chaired by Elihu Root of New York. On April 18, 1921, the Senate approved S. Res. 43, 67th Cong., which eliminated approximately 40 standing and select committees and in other ways reformed the committee structure of the Senate. Among the committees eliminated by this resolution were the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of State and nine others that had jurisdiction over expenditures in the Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Labor, Navy, Post Office, Treasury, and War Departments. (Of these nine other committees, only the Committee on Expenditures in the Navy Department has left any unprinted records, which, measuring less than 1/4 in., are negligible.) These committees were then replaced by the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, which existed for over 30 years. On March 3, 1952, with the approval of S. Res. 280, 82d Cong., the committee was renamed the Committee on Government Operations, and in the next two decades it established itself as the preeminent investigative body of the Senate. In 1977, the Senate committee structure was once again altered; the Government Operations Committee was renamed the Committee on Governmental Affairs, which in turn received jurisdiction over the U.S. Postal Service, the civil service, and the District of Columbia.

11.3 Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate--50th Anniversary History, 1921-1971 (S. Doc. 31, 92d Cong., 1st sess., Serial 12935-2) provides a brief history of the committee and its predecessor through the 91st Congress.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.