Chair: Maria Cantwell
Grade for the 117th Congress
4 Investigative Oversight Hearings
16 Policy/Legislative Hearings
76 Total HearingsLast updated: Nov. 18, 2023, 12:43 p.m.
As its title indicates, the committee’s jurisdiction sprawls over a broad swath of American life. One of the largest Senate committees, with 27 members, its responsibilities include two cabinet departments and numerous separate agencies, from NASA to the Federal Trade Commission to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Aviation, highway, maritime and railroad safety, the Panama Canal and the Internet, climate change and natural disasters, sports and tourism, marine fisheries and the Coast Guard, STEM research and policy, and consumer product safety are some of the many areas it covers. While the committee sets broad policy and budget authorization, the independent agencies it oversees often have major impact, such as the FCC on telecommunications and the FAA on airline safety. The committee has six subcommittees: aviation and space; communications, technology, innovation and the Internet; manufacturing, trade and consumer protection; science, oceans, fisheries and weather; transportation and safety; and security.
With many different and controversial policies under its purview, over the years the committee’s hearing schedule typically has peaked in the first Congress after a change in the White House, then subsided. Under Democrats it held 119 hearings in the 111th Congress (2009-10), immediately after the election of President Obama, and under Republicans it held 124 hearings in the 115th Congress (2017-18) after the election of President Trump. In the three intervening Congresses (two controlled by Democrats, one by Republicans), it averaged about 85 hearings. Its 124 hearings in the 115th Congress, under Chair John Thune (R, S.D.), were the most for the committee in the 12-year period, which dropped to 91 hearings under Chair Roger Wicker (R, MS) in the 116th Congress.
The committee historically has been quite active in oversight investigation hearings, with an emphasis on probes of private sector activity. In the 116th Congress, however, its investigative oversight was limited to only two hearings, both on the failures of the Boeing 737 Max, which culminated in the casualties of nearly 350 people worldwide.
The first hearing, held in October 2019, examined failures from industry and agency perspectives, bringing in the CEO of Boeing and the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board as key witnesses. The second hearing, held in June 2020, served as a follow-up investigation of the changes made at the FAA in response to the incidents in 2019.
The two investigative hearings represent a major drop from the activity in the 115th Congress (2017-18), where the committee conducted nine investigative oversight hearings, seven of the private sector and two of government agencies. Typically, the committee holds between six and 10 investigative hearings over a two year period.
111th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
112th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
113th Congress: Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
114th Congress: John Thune (R-SD)
115th Congress: John Thune (R-SD)
116th Congress: Roger Wicker (R-MS)
117th Congress: Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
We are 100% of the way through the 117th Congress
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation4 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 38% 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]