The Center for Legislative Archives

Oral Histories and Interviews: Fenno Interview Notes

Research Interview Notes of Richard F. Fenno, Jr.

This inventory describes the research interview notes of Richard F. Fenno, Jr., on the Congressional appropriations process. These notes, which have been donated to the National Archives and Records Administration, cover nearly ninety interviews with members of the House of Representatives conducted between 1959 and 1965.

An initial set of interview notes was accessioned by deed of gift to the National Archives and Records Administration on December 14, 1993. The interview notes represent the source material for two books:

  • The Power of the Purse: Appropriations Politics in Congress, published in 1966
  • Congressmen in Committees: A Comparative View, published in 1973

In Power of the Purse Fenno describes the interviews as semistructured. "Certain key questions, all open-ended, were asked of all respondents holding similar positions." The interviews tended to be short--45 to 60 minutes on average, though they ranged from ten minutes to three hours.

The interview notes are not verbatim transcripts of the sessions. As Fenno reports:

    In a few cases, where respondents encouraged it, notes were taken during the interview. Typically, however, notes were not taken but were transcribed immediately after the interview. Unattributed quotations in the text, therefore, are as nearly verbatim as the author's power of immediate recall could make them. These techniques were used in the belief that they encouraged what the author believes to be the quintessential condition of successful interviewing of political elites--rapport between interviewer and respondent. (Fenno, Power of the Purse, xxviii.)

The interview notes were originally handwritten by Fenno before a typed transcription was prepared. The National Archives and Records Administration received this typed version of the notes. Fenno suggested that some editing was necessary to make the notes useful to other researchers. Staff at the Center for Legislative Archives edited the notes, which were subsequently reviewed by Fenno. Editing involved converting brief phrases into full sentences and providing identifying references for individuals and agencies. Any annotations made to sentences or phrases that Fenno enclosed within quotation marks appear within squared brackets ([]).

The interviews were conducted in Washington, DC, at six periods:

  • late spring 1959
  • late spring 1960
  • winter 1960-1961
  • April 1963
  • spring 1964
  • spring 1965

Fenno spoke with five general groups:

  • House members (largely those on the Appropriations Committee)
  • House staff
  • Senate Appropriations Committee members
  • Senate staff
  • executive agency liaisons to the two Appropriations Committees
These five groups are the basis for the series arrangement of this collection.
Interview Notes

Interview Notes Table of Contents: Notes are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the individual interviewed and chronologically thereafter.

Most of the interviews were with members of the House Appropriations Committee; some were with individuals in House leadership positions or on the Democratic and Republican committees that made committee assignments. In many cases Fenno would interview individuals more than once.

These interview notes cover the following subjects: the appointment process to the Appropriations Committee, the Committee's role in the Congressional appropriations process, Committee attitudes towards executive agencies, committee-subcommittee relations, Committee and subcommittee leadership, conference committee operations with the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Committee's reputation in the House.

Under the conditions of the deed of gift of December 14, 1993, interview notes are open to researchers after the interviewee's death.