Chair: Gary Peters
Projected Grade for the 117th Congress
3 Investigative Oversight Hearings
9 Policy/Legislative Hearings
30 Total HearingsLast updated: Sept. 16, 2021, 10:18 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 under the leadership of chair Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) in the 115th (2017-18) and 116th Congresses (2019-20). From a high of 185 hearings in the 111th Congress (2009-10), hearing activity fell to just 67 in the 116th Congress, just below the 86 it held in the 115th, and far below the committee’s average of 122 for the three Congresses prior.
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 31 in the 116th. That is by far the fewest the committee held during the 12-year 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 116th Congress under Chair Johnson and PSI Chair Rob Portman (R, Ohio), 3 investigative hearings, is the lowest figure for the six Congresses studied. 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 116th, 115th and 114th Congresses (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 116th Congress: the weaknesses of the online commenting systems, where the American public can submit feedback on proposed rules; Crossfire Hurricane investigation by the FBI, which examined the links between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials; and the deployment of DHS personnel to civilian protests in June.
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)
117th Congress: Gary Peters (D-MI)
We are 39% of the way through the 117th Congress
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs3 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 13% 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]