Government Research Intern: Owais Durrani

Title: The Congressional Committee System: Desirability of Committees in the US House

Author: Owais Durrani


The United States Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, is composed of numerous committees that specialize in specific issues. Members of Congress desire some committee assignments more than others. Using a transfer ratio method I aim to calculate which committees are more sought after by members of Congress and how these committees’ desirability changes over time.

The raw data I started with consisted of all the members in the US House and the committees that they have served on from the 104th to the 112th congresses (1995-2013). I then sorted the data to portray each member and his or her committee assignments throughout the time period. Afterwards, I tracked the transfers between committees for each member. I then tabulated how many times each committee was added and dropped by members for each congress. It is important to note that although many types of committees exist, I looked at only the standing committees in the US House. At this point my data were in a form that could be plugged into the transfer ratio equation to give me the “desirability scores” for the committees.

Transfer Ration = # Transfers Onto Comm. X / # Transfers Onto Comm.X + # Transfers                                   Off Comm. X

By plugging in the adds and drops for each committee from the 104th congress to the 112th congress, I calculated a score ranging from 0 to 1 for each committee (0 being least desirable and 1 being most desirable).

The first analysis I conducted was looking at which committees were most desirable and which were least desirable during the period of study. A basic average of the committee’s desirability scores over the time period was calculated. The four strongest committees were Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations, and the Rules committee. The four weakest committees were Small Business, Agriculture, Science/Space/Technology, and the Veterans Affairs committee. I noticed that the four strongest committees were exclusive committees. Member of exclusive committees are for the most part not allowed to sit on other committees.

After getting a general overview of where the desirability of committees stood in respect to one another, I was curious as to what members of each party valued various committees at. The results showed that the top four committees valued by members of each party were once more the exclusive committees. It is important to note that the four committees were valued differently between the parties. These results show that the members strive for a select group of committees to be on.

The next logical analysis I went through was looking at how the non-exclusive committees ranked in desirability in relation to each other. Just as in my previous analysis, there were two levels to this aspect of the study — looking at committee desirability for the entire congress and at desirability from the viewpoints of representatives as members of political parties. The results showed greater variability in each party’s preferences for committees. Democrats valued the budget, standard of official conduct, foreign affairs, and public works/transportation committees the most. Republicans valued the foreign affairs, judiciary, budget, and armed services committees the most. Although differences did exist between the committee preferences, there were still similarities such as the budget and foreign affairs committee.

There were numerous significant findings from this study. The general pattern that emerged was that the exclusive committees are at the pinnacle of the committee structure. Another important finding is that even among the non-exclusive committees there emerge committees that are preferred by members from across the isle. This pattern parallels the behavior of members with regards to exclusive committees, that is there seems to be a hierarchy of committees that crosses partisan lines. This pattern is supported by the finding that the least desirable committees in Congress are the same for both Republicans and Democrats.