Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Chair: Ron Johnson

F

Projected Grade for the 116th Congress*

* 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]

3 Investigative Oversight Hearings

28 Policy/Legislative Hearings

60 Total Hearings

Last updated: Oct. 2, 2020, 9:14 p.m.

Originally known as the Committee on Government Affairs, the committee with its powerful subcommittee, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), serves as the chief oversight committee of the Senate for all branches of government. The committee chair can issue subpoenas without a committee vote. The Department of Homeland Security was added to its jurisdiction in 2004, following creation of DHS after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although one of PSI’s earliest chairmen in the 1950s was Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R, Wis.), the PSI in recent decades has established a tradition of robust bipartisan investigation of government and the private sector under both Republicans and Democrats. The PSI specializes in long-term probes, often spending months, sometimes up to a year, on investigations, which typically result in widely-publicized hearings and reports. The PSI operates relatively independently from the full committee, selecting its own staff, issuing its own subpoenas and setting its own agenda. The full committee, with a broad mandate to scrutinize government operations and oversee DHS, also has jurisdiction over the census, the National Archives, the Postal Service, the civil service and the District of Columbia. The committee has three subcommittees: PSI; federal spending oversight and emergency management; and regulatory affairs and federal management.

Once one of the most active in the Senate, the committee’s hearing schedule has fallen dramatically in recent years, especially in the first two years of the Trump administration. From a high of 185 hearings in the 111th Congress (2009-10), hearing activity fell to just 86 in the 115th Congress (2017-18) under Chair Ron Johnson (R, Wis.), far below the committee’s average of 122 for the three previous Congresses.

Along with the decline in overall hearings has come an even bigger drop in policy and legislative oversight. From a high of 118 policy and legislative hearings in the 111th Congress, the committee under Chair Johnson held only 40 in the 115th. That is by far the fewest the committee held during the period.

Consistent with its mandate, the committee over the years has held the most investigative oversight hearings in the Senate. However, its record for the 115th Congress under Chair Johnson and PSI Chair Rob Portman (R, Ohio), 10 investigative hearings, is the committee’s lowest figure of the five Congresses studied. (It is tied with the Judiciary Committee for the most in the Senate that Congress.) It is well below the committee average for the period, and the continuation of a decline in investigative activity since the 111th Congress, when it held 28. Much of the drop-off in the 115th and 114th Congress (2015-16) under Chair Johnson and PSI Chair Portman can be attributed to a decline in the PSI’s private sector probes. Among the topics investigated during the 115th Congress: what the government is doing to protect unaccompanied alien children from trafficking; the opiod crisis; federal infrastructure permitting; and the role of the website Backpage.com in enabling sex trafficking.


Chairs

111th Congress: Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)

112th Congress: Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)

113th Congress: Tom Carper (D-DE)

114th Congress: Ron Johnson (R-WI)

115th Congress: Ron Johnson (R-WI)

116th Congress: Ron Johnson (R-WI)


Current Congress

We are 99% of the way through the 116th Congress

Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

3 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 15% historical maximum
28 Policy/Legislative Hearings; 29% historical maximum
60 Total Hearings; 39% historical maximum

Committee History

Number of Hearings
Committee Hearing Performance
Investigative/Oversight Policy/Legislative Total Hearings Score Grade
111th Congress 24 118 185 100% A
112th Congress 22 84 124 76% C
113th Congress 20 70 120 68% D+
114th Congress 11 83 122 62% D
115th Congress 10 40 86 40% F
116th Congress* 3 28 60 28% F
Historical average 15.0 70.5 116.2

* 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]

Number of Hearings

--- Historical Average

Hearings held by the
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Date Hearing Title Committee Category