Chair: Bob Menendez
Projected Grade for the 117th Congress
1 Investigative Oversight Hearings
23 Policy/Legislative Hearings
45 Total HearingsLast updated: Sept. 16, 2021, 10:09 p.m.
One of the Senate’s 10 original committees, the committee has jurisdiction over the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign aid agencies, with oversight responsibilities for the United Nations, the World Bank and the other multi-lateral development banks. Historically one of its most important functions has been to vote on international treaties, which under the Constitution must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. It also must approve the nominations of all U.S. ambassadors, each of whom gets a hearing (either individually or shared with other nominees), many perfunctory, some quite contentious, giving the committee Congress’s busiest nomination schedule. With no money to dole out to Senators’ states and a modest legislative agenda, committee chairs have often regarded hearings as their main source of influence. The committee has seven subcommittees: Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues; Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy; Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism; Africa and Global Health Policy; State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development; Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy.
In part because of its heavy nomination load, the committee has one of the largest hearing schedules in the Senate. The committee was most active immediately after President Obama’s election (the 111th Congress 2009-10) and after the Republicans re-assumed Senate control after the 2014 election (the 114th Congress 2015-16), with 167 and 169 hearings respectively. In the 116th Congress (2019-2020) under Chair Jim Risch (R, Idaho) the committee held a record-low 82 hearings, compared to an average 152 hearings per Congress for the previous five Congresses. Even with the abridged timeline due to Covid-19, this performance yielded the lowest score in the 12-year period.
Policy review oversight comprises much of the committee’s non-nomination hearing schedule. (Nominations for ambassadors to important posts may often involve policy reviews. Because it passes little legislation, the committee holds only a handful of legislative oversight hearings each Congress.) It usually has a full schedule of such policy and legislative oversight hearings, comparable to other important committees. But in the 116th Congress, the committee held only 41 policy and legislative oversight hearings. This was significantly lower than the committee's average, but only a slight drop from the 56 policy and legislative oversight hearings held in the 115th Congress (2017-18), the first two years of the Trump administration.
The committee performs little investigative oversight, averaging less than one such hearing each Congress over the period. It was one of nine Senate committees that held no investigative oversight hearings in the 116th Congress.
111th Congress: John Kerry (D-MA)
112th Congress: John Kerry (D-MA)
113th Congress: Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
114th Congress: Bob Corker (R-TN)
115th Congress: Bob Corker (R-TN)
116th Congress: Jim Risch R-ID)
117th Congress: Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
We are 39% of the way through the 117th Congress
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations1 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 100% historical maximum
Number of Hearings
Committee Hearing Performance
* Adjustments have been applied so that committees' grades are not lowered by the constraints on hearings caused by Covid-19 [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org/covid-19-statement]