Grading Methodology

All hearings held by permanent committees in Congress since 2009 are divided into eight categories. These categories are: Agency Conduct hearings, Private Sector Oversight hearings, Policy hearings, Legislative hearings, Closed hearings, Nomination hearings, Fact Finding hearings, and Field hearings.

Each category is assigned one of three point values based on their relationship to oversight. Agency Conduct hearings and Private Sector Oversight hearings (which together, are classified as “investigative oversight”) receive eight points per hearing. Policy hearings, Legislative hearings, and Closed hearings receive three points. Nomination hearings, Field hearings, and Fact Finding hearings receive one point. All points are added together to determine a committee’s overall point total for a Congress.

Although some committees regularly conduct investigative oversight hearings, they are quite rare in many committees. Our scoring system assigns eight points to these hearings in recognition that they meet the most exacting definition of oversight. These hearings often have a profound impact on agency or private sector behavior. One of the goals of this Index is to incentivize committees to conduct more investigative oversight.

Each Policy, Legislative, and Closed hearing receives three points because they usually review agency performance, include administration witnesses, and contribute to the accountability of the executive branch. This is true even if they are not focused on malfeasance or a specific agency failure.

Nomination hearings, Field hearings, and Fact Finding hearings generally have a more tangential relationship to oversight. However, they receive one point and, therefore, contribute to a committee’s overall point total.

We recognize that each hearing is a unique event and that hearings may contain elements that warrant consideration for more than one category. However, our system requires that each hearing be placed in just one category. We make judgments based on criteria developed during our experience categorizing the nearly 20,000 hearings in the initial database.

A letter grade for each committee is derived by comparing the overall number of points a committee earned in a whole Congress to the highest historic performance by that same committee in our data base. For example if the highest number of points scored during a whole Congress by the Ways and Means Committee is 200, the grades of Ways and Means Committees in other Congresses would be based on the percentage of its points compared to 200. If a Committee scores at least 90 percent of 200 (in this case, 180 and above) it would receive an “A” grade. If a Committee has 80-90% of the points of the highest score, it would get a B; 70-80% is a C; 60-70% is a D; and below 60% is an F. Grades include pluses and minuses when they fall within 2.5% of a boundary. For example, 92% would earn an A-, while 78% would earn a C+.

We base the grade on the highest historical score for each committee because the committee Chair in that Congress demonstrated that this tempo of hearing oversight was possible for that committee. Any Chair of a current committee can earn at least a B just by achieving 80% of the tempo already proven to be achievable in that committee by a previous Chair.

The Index also includes projected grades for the current, unfinished Congress. These are derived by the same method used to generate grades for a whole Congress, but we add a comparative time factor to account for the fact that the Congress is not complete. Points earned as of the last update of the Index are compared to the overall number of points earned by the same committee in the highest scoring Congress. But this ratio is synchronized to the amount of time that has elapsed in the current Congress. Thus, if the Congress is half completed and the top score for the committee is 100 points. The projected grade for the committee in the current Congress will be an A if the committee has compiled at least 45 points up to that point (90% of one half of 100).