Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 11

Records of the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Related Committees

Committee records discussed in this chapter:


History and Jurisdiction

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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Records of Minor Standing Expenditure and Investigative Committees, 27th-66th Congresses (1842-1921)

11.4 The records of the Committee on Retrenchment, 1842-54 (7 in.), consist of committee reports and papers (1 in.), committee papers (5 in.), and petitions and memorials referred to the committee (1 in.). The records from the 1840's concern reducing the compensation, per diem, and travel expenses provided Members of Congress (27A-D17, 27A-G19, 28A-D14, 28A-G18, 29A-G20). The remaining records include and relate to a petition by Government clerks for a pay raise in 1854. In response to this petition, the committee chairman, Stephen Adams of Mississippi, requested and received reports from various Departments on compensation of their clerical employees (33A-E15, 33A-H20).

11.5 Although in existence for less than 15 months, the Committee on Investigation and Retrenchment, 1871-73, has left a detailed record of its activity. The committee papers (2 ft.) include a minute book, documents received by the committee that are referenced in the minute book, subpoenas and subpoena dockets, letters from executive agencies, lists of witnesses and papers requested, printed Senate Miscellaneous Documents containing instructions to the committee, and other records (42A-E8). The chairman of the committee was William A. Buckingham of Connecticut.

11.6 The only records of the Committee on Organization, Conduct, and Expenditures in Executive Departments, 1900-1901, consist of petitions (2 in.) and related correspondence from an irate manufacturer of incandescent lamps who sought an investigation of the Commissioner of Patents (56A-F24). The National Archives has no records of any of the other expenditure-related committees until 1947 (80th Cong.).

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Records of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, 80th-82nd Congresses (1947-1952)

11.7 The jurisdiction of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, as defined in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601), was comparatively simple. All proposed legislation, Presidential messages, petitions, memorials, and other matters relating to budget and accounting measures, other than appropriations, and the reorganization of the executive branch of the Government, were to be referred to the committee. In addition, the committee was authorized to receive and examine reports of the Comptroller General of the United States and to make recommendations to the Senate in connection with these reports, study the operation of Government activities with a view to determining their economy and efficiency, evaluate effects of laws enacted to reorganize the executive and legislative branches of the Government, and study the intergovernmental relationships between the United States and municipalities and international organizations of which the United States is a part.

11.8 The records of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments (47 ft.) are rather limited. Although the committee was established in 1921, no separate series of its records before the 80th Congress (1947-48) have been transferred to the National Archives. The committee was not totally inactive before 1947 as it did hold and print hearings as early as the 74th Congress (1935-37). Any bills or resolutions referred to the committee before 1947 may be documented in the series of papers supporting specific bills and resolutions.

11.9 Many records of the Investigations Subcommittee of the committee are included in and described with the records of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), Committee on Government Operations.

11.10 The records of the full Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments (22 ft.) include a record set of staff memorandums, 1947-52 (9 in.), which contain a description and analysis of many bills and resolutions referred to the committee and provide policy guidance to staff members about the bills and resolutions as well as other matters considered by the committee. The memorandums are numbered and arranged by Congress, thereunder by session, and thereunder sequentially by date of issuance. The series continues under the Committee on Government Operations until 1968.

11.11 Few bills and resolutions were referred to the committee, and, as a result, there are only a small number of legislative case files, 1947-52 (6 ft.). Furthermore, the records that have been retained are of little value, being chiefly transcripts, printer's copies, and galleys of hearings that were printed.

11.12 Presidential messages and executive communications, 1947-52 (9 ft.), include original messages relating to Truman administration reorganization plans, particularly those proposed by the Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch of the Government (the first Hoover Commission), 1947-49. A substantial part of this series consists of the reports of that commission (81st Cong.) and numerous reports of the Comptroller General about aspects of executive agency management or programs. Also referred to the committee were petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies, 1947-52 (3 in.).

11.13 Records of hearings held by the committee on matters other than bills consist of transcripts of public hearings, 1947-52 (6 ft.), which were printed. Additional hearing transcripts are found among subcommittee records. Filed among the hearing transcripts of the full committee are staff memorandums relating to the investigation of activities of the Mississippi Democratic Party, 1951-52 (1 in.), particularly that part of the investigation concerned with the selling of post office jobs. The investigation was undertaken by the Investigations Subcommittee.

Subcommittee on Investigations

11.14 Investigative case files, executive session transcripts, news clippings, and administrative records of the Subcommittee on Investigations have been incorporated into and described in this guide with the records of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). The only records of the subcommittee that have not been incorporated are transcripts of hearings, 1947-52 (12 ft.). Like most of the transcripts retained by the committee, these consist largely of transcripts of hearings that were printed and related exhibits, printer's copies of the transcript, and galley proofs. Additionally, some copies indicate corrections of the transcript by witnesses, and for certain hearings held during the 81st Congress there are also transcripts of unprinted hearings. The records are arranged for each Congress by subject and thereunder by date of hearing. A useful supplement to the records, prepared by the Senate Historical Office and available at the National Archives, is a transcript of an oral history interview with Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the subcommittee.

Subcommittee to Investigate Surplus Property

11.15 The records, 1947-48 (13 ft.), document an investigation that continued one begun during World War II, pursuant to S. Res. 198, 78th Cong., by the Committee on Military Affairs, to determine if surplus property was being disposed of in accordance with the Surplus Property Act of 1944. Under particular scrutiny were the activities of the War Assets Administration, which had responsibility for implementing the law. T he subcommittee also held some hearings jointly with the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. The records of the subcommittee include subject files, for which there is a detailed index; staff memorandums; correspondence; reference material from various agencies; and printed Senate and related House hearings and hearing transcripts.

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Records of the Committee on Government Operations, 82nd-90th Congresses (1952-1968)

11.16 When the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments was renamed the Committee on Government Operations (pursuant to S. Res. 220, 82d Cong.), the jurisdictional statement in Senate Rule XXV, as enacted in Public Law 79-601, was not changed, and it remained unchanged into the 1970's. It is remarkable that the committee could, under this simple mandate, undertake the far-ranging investigations that it did during the 1950's and 1960's. The first change in the jurisdiction of the committee occurred with the enactment of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (Public Law 93-344), which established the Senate Budget Committee, the first committee responsible solely for evaluating the Federal budget. When the committee system was reformed in 1977, the Committee on Government Operations was combined with the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and the Committee on the District of Columbia to form the Committee on Governmental Affairs.

11.17 The records of the Committee on Government Operations and its subcommittees, 1952-68 (1,160 ft.), consist largely of investigative case files of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1947-82, which are not currently open to research.

11.18 The records of the full Committee on Government Operations (94 ft.) in the custody of the National Archives are not extensive, compared to other modern standing committees. Perhaps most useful is the record set of staff memorandums, 1952-68 (2 ft.), which continues the series begun when the committee was the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments. This series provides detailed descriptions and analysis of bills and resolutions referred to and of other issues brought before the committee, and states the official position of the committee on these matters. The memorandums are numbered and arranged by Congress, thereunder by session, and thereunder chronologically by date of issuance.

11.19 Legislative case files, 1952-68 (35 ft.), are incomplete until the 88th Congress (1965-66). Before 1965, the records consist of a large file on S. 913, 82d Cong., a bill to provide assistance to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to better evaluate executive agency budgets; printer's copies of hearings of bills, 83d Cong.; and case files on a total of five bills referred to the 85th and 86th Congresses. From 1965 onward, the case files appear complete; arranged by Congress, thereunder by type of bill or resolution, and thereunder numerically, most contain printed copies of bills, printed reports and hearings, and correspondence. The file on S. 3010, 89th Cong., the Senate version of a bill to establish a department of transportation, is extensive, and records for the 89th and 90th Congresses also contain case files on proposed executive reorganization plans.

11.20 Presidential messages and executive communications ("messages, communications, and reports"), 1952-68 (51 ft.), includes a small number of Presidential messages, including reorganization plans and proposals; printed reports from the Commission on the Reorganization of the Executive Branch of the Government (second Hoover Commission), 1953-55 (84th Cong.); a large number of audit reports and management studies submitted by the Comptroller General; and miscellaneous reports and communications. Presidential messages are arranged for each Congress chronologically by date of referral. The executive communications are similarly arranged, except for the reports of the Comptroller General after 1960, which are arranged alphabetically by name of agency.

11.21 Also referred to the committee were a small number of petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures and other bodies, 1952-68 (7 in.). Notable among these are a number of petitions relating to S. Res 301, 83d Cong., the resolution submitted by Ralph Flanders of Vermont to censure Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin.

11.22 Other records of the committee include printer's copies of hearing transcripts that were printed, 1952 (9 in.), records relating to the disposal of surplus real property, 1962-68 (2 ft.), and miscellaneous subject files, 1963-68 (3 ft.).

Records of Subcommittees of the Committee on Government Operations

Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

11.23 As mentioned above, the vast majority of the committee's records resulted from investigative activities of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). Since 1947, more than 80 percent of all records of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments and its predecessors in the custody of the National Archives are records of the PSI, and 90 percent of these are investigative case files.

11.24 According to Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the subcommittee for more than 30 years, the subcommittee calls itself "permanent" but it really is not; nor is it independent of the full Government Operations (now Governmental Affairs) Committee. The PSI has, however, been a useful and powerful tool for several of the chairmen of the committee because it has a broad mandate to investigate inefficiency, mismanagement, and corruption in Government.

11.25 The PSI is sometimes thought of as the successor to the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, 1941-48, also known as the Truman Committee. When the Truman Committee was terminated in 1948, the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments continued that committee's investigation of war contracts and procurement of the F-11, the so-called flying boat. The subcommittee also assumed responsibility for the records of the Truman Committee. Some members of the Truman Committee investigative and clerical staff later worked for the Investigations Subcommittee. However, there is no official connection between the Truman Committee and the PSI.

11.26 Under the chairmanship of Homer Ferguson of Michigan (1948) and Clyde R. Hoey of North Carolina (1949-52), the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments held hearings on such matters as export control violations, the trial of Nazi war criminal Ilse Koch, the Mississippi Democratic Party and sales of post office jobs, and the "5 percenters," so-called because these men, including Presidential aide Gen. Harry Vaughan, were accused of charging a 5-percent commission for their influence in securing Government contracts. However, in the 83d Congress, under its new chairman, Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, the subcommittee (now known as the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations) greatly increased the number of investigations and number of witnesses called. The PSI began a series of investigations on such various matters as subversives in the Department of State, Department of Defense, and U.S. Army; the Voice of America and the United States Information Service libraries; Korean war atrocities; communist infiltration of the United Nations; and the transfer to the Soviet Union of occupation currency plates. In April 1954, McCarthy`s exchange of charges with Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens led to the appointment of a special subcommittee of the PSI to investigate the charges. Chaired by Karl Mundt of South Dakota, the proceedings became known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

11.27 From 1955 until 1972, John L. McClellan of Arkansas chaired the PSI. McClellan continued certain investigations initiated during McCarthy's chairmanship, and added new inquiries relating to communist activities in the United States and to business activities and alleged improper activities by Eisenhower administration appointees and political associates. In the 86th Congress (1957), the PSI began an investigation of labor unions, which soon led the Senate to appoint a separate committee, the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, 1957-60. The select committee was also chaired by McClellan and staffed by several PSI veterans, including Robert F. Kennedy. During the 86th and 87th Congresses, the work of the select committee, though technically independent of the PSI, consumed the time of the PSI chairman and his legal counsel and investigators, and few new investigations were initiated. After the select committee expired in 1960, the PSI continued to investigate labor racketeering and other labor-related matters. From 1961 through 1968, it also investigated gambling and organized crime (in which Joe Valachi testified about the activities of the Cosa Nostra), the Billie Sol Estes case, irregularities in missile procurement, procurement of the TFX fighter plane, excessive risks in underwriting Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgages, riots and civil disorders, the Agency for International Development commodity import program, and procurement of railway bridges for South Vietnam under the counterinsurgency program.

11.28 The records of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1948-82 (1,087 ft.), consist largely of closed investigative case files, 1948-82 (984 ft.). Unlike most records of Senate committees and subcommittees, this series of records is not arranged primarily by number of Congress. Many case files contain records that span a large period of time, thus making it impossible to provide an exact measurement of records accumulated through 1968. The records are arranged numerically by case file number, based on a numerical classification system under which Government Departments, agencies, and certain broad subjects are assigned a number, currently ranging from 5 to 63. Two of the largest primary categories are 18 (Department of Labor), which was used by PSI for its labor racketeering investigation, and 55 (Civil Disorders), which covers investigations into urban riots of the late 1960's. (The records of the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field uses the same filing system, with its investigative files in category 18, Department of Labor.) Individual case files include reports from Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and records obtained through the subcommittee staff's own investigative efforts, such as subpoenas. As investigative records, these records are closed by S. Res. 474, 96th Cong., until they are 50 years old. The committee maintains the index to both open and closed files.

11.29 Public and executive session hearings and records of committee meetings of the PSI are documented by transcripts of executive sessions, March 23, 1948-May 28, 1973 (28 ft.), which include both closed hearings and subcommittee meetings; miscellaneous transcripts of executive sessions, 1953-62 (2 in.); and original transcripts of public hearings, 1953-77 (31 ft.), including printer's copies, 1953-57, some original exhibits, and printer's copies of certain reports relating to hearings.

11.30 The records relating to the Army-McCarthy hearings, April-September 1954 (4 ft.), also consist largely of original transcripts and the original report, but also include exhibits (some of which were not printed), copies of transcripts of executive sessions, and a small amount of related correspondence and administrative records.

11.31 Other records of the PSI include miscellaneous historical records, 1947-81 (1 ft.), including the original brief prepared by special subcommittee counsel Ray Jenkins on testimony in the Army-McCarthy hearings, 1954; press releases, 1948-82 (1 ft.); "historical" press clippings, 1948-51 (10 in.), of the predecessor Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments; correspondence relating to the TFX investigation, 1962-70 (5 in.), arranged chronologically; and administrative and financial records, 1948-78 (37 ft.), including travel and other expense vouchers, canceled checks, letters from the Senate Rules Committee, and Senate resolutions relating to authorizing and funding investigations for both investigative subcommittees and also for the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field.

11.32 Supplementing these records and available at the National Archives is a transcript of an oral history interview conducted by the staff of the Senate Historical Office with Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the Investigations Subcommittee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, 1948-79, and the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, 1957-60.

Subcommittee on Reorganization and International Organizations

11.33 The records, 1958-64 (52 ft.), consist chiefly of general correspondence, 1962-64 (15 ft.), arranged by subject but specifically excluding records of the subcommittee study of drug research and regulation; correspondence and reference material concerning studies of international medical research and of U.S. Government coordination of scientific information, 1958-62 (27 ft.); and legislative files of Hubert H. Humphrey, 1959-64 (2 ft.), consisting mostly of printed matter. There are additional records relating to medical electronics, physical fitness, inventors and inventions, regulatory agencies, and children's health, 1960-64 (8 ft.). Much of the correspondence relates to activities of Subcommittee Project Director Julius N. Cahn and Subcommittee Chairman Hubert H. Humphrey.

Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations

11.34 The records, 1963-68 (19 ft.), consist chiefly of legislative case files, 88th-90th Congresses, on bills and resolutions relating to improving relations between the Federal Government and municipalities in matters including taxation, personnel exchange, land use, and environmental matters. The records also include information on the establishment and activities of the Advisory Council for Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) since the late 1950's, civil disturbances and urban problems of the late 1960's, and the use of Ellis Island. The legislative case files include staff memorandums, agency comments on legislation, other correspondence, copies of printed bills and related reports, press releases, and background studies and publications. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine chaired the subcommittee.

Subcommittee on Foreign Aid Expenditures

11.35 The records, 1965-68 (2 ft.), include letters sent by Subcommittee Chairman Ernest Gruening of Alaska; congressional correspondence; subcommittee publications relating to various subjects, including family planning activities of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) and international birth-control activities of the Department of State; and administrative records of the subcommittee.

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Records of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, 95th-99th Congresses (1977-1986)
Records of the Committee on Government Operations, 91st-94th Congresses (1969-1976)

11.36 Few records of the full Government Operations Committee, 91st-94th Congresses (1969-76), have been accessioned. Thereafter, the records of the full committee include legislative files, Presidential messages and executive communications, markup and executive session transcripts, and security-classified General Accounting Office reports and executive communications. There are also records of the committee's investigation of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in 1979 (50 ft.) and a large volume of material maintained by the committee's minority (Democratic) staff, 1983-86 (57 ft.). There are records for the following subcommittees: Governmental Efficiency and the District of Columbia (55 ft.); Federal Spending Practices and Open Government (36 ft.); Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes (33 ft., including some pre-1969 records); Intergovernmental Relations (37 ft.); Post Office and Civil Service (1 ft.); and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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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.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

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