This post is coauthored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, senior legal reference specialists.
In 1947, aviation and film industry executive Howard Hughes testified before a hearing of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. The hearings that followed were contentious, with the committee investigating Kaiser-Hughes Aircraft for receiving taxpayer dollars for aircraft that were never delivered, including the flying boat called the Hercules, also known as the Spruce-Goose. Hughes responded by accusing Committee Chairman Senator Brewster of singling out Kaiser-Hughes for scrutiny because Hughes declined to support Senator Brewster’s Community Airline Bill and Hughes opposed a merger of Trans World Airlines with Pan-Am. If any of this sounds familiar, it is likely because this hearing was dramatized in the movie The Aviator and televised film clips from the hearing are currently available on YouTube.
Using these hearings as an example, we hope to demonstrate how you can locate transcripts of committee hearings. As noted by the Government Publishing Office,
A hearing is a meeting or session of a Senate, House, joint, or special committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of a Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest.
In light of the information they contain, congressional committee hearings can often serve as a component in constructing a legislative history. Transcripts of committee hearings are not immediately available, however. As noted by the Congressional Research Service, “[p]rinted hearings…often are not published for months after the hearing, but are usually available for inspection in committee offices; witness testimony is often available on-line.” Where to find these published hearings can sometimes be a challenge, and as such, we will go into the congressional committee hearing research process in greater detail below.
Please note that this Beginner’s Guide focuses on published hearings. Transcripts for hearings which were initially not published, and which were later made available by the Congressional Information Service in microfiche and through online resources such as ProQuest will be the subject of a future post.
Often, the easiest way to find the hearing or hearings you need will be to use an online resource. These online resources have digital copies of congressional hearings in their databases, and will allow for keyword searching. Additionally, some online resources offer compiled legislative history reports for certain laws, which can link you to other related legislative history documents.
ProQuest Congressional – ProQuest Congressional is a database that allows users to search and download the abstracts and full-text of congressional hearings from 1824 to the present. While a subscription is required in order to access this resource, ProQuest Congressional is available at many state and academic libraries and law firms nationwide. In order to determine whether your local library has access to this, or any other subscription database, simply call the library’s reference desk.
Regarding our example, since you know you are searching for Howard Hughes as a witness, you could locate this hearing by using the “Advanced Search” feature on ProQuest Congressional. Simply click the drop-down menu above the first search box, and choose “Witness” as the field you would like to search. Next, make sure that only “Hearings 1824-Present” is checked in the documents list, and click “Search.” In this case, the search produces a manageable seven results. You can also narrow down your hearing search results in ProQuest Congressional by date, Congress, document type (hearings published or unpublished), committee source, and even subject. After you click on a hearing, you may find it is very long. If you are just looking for the testimony of a certain witness, consider first looking through the hearing’s table of contents, which may indicate the pages on which you can find the testimony of that witness.
If you do not have the name of a witness, you can also search for a hearing by title, subject, “Congressional Source,” and even by keyword, by using the drop-down menu on the Advanced Search main search screen. If you happen to have a citation to a hearing, such as a Sudoc number or publication number, you can click on “legislative and executive publications” at the top, select “search by number,” then “bibliographic citations,” and type your citation into the corresponding field.
ProQuest Legislative Insight – ProQuest Legislative Insight is a subscription database that allows users to find and download pre-compiled legislative histories regarding a wide array of federal legislation. If you would like to search for a hearing using the citation to a bill, public law number, or U.S. Statutes at Large citation, enter your citation in the appropriate field on the homepage and click “Go to Legislative History.” You can then click on “Select a pub type” and select “Hearing” to narrow your results.
HeinOnline – The subscription database HeinOnline also contains selected Congressional Hearings, from 1889 to 2012. To access these hearings, click on “U.S. Congressional Documents” and then “Congressional Hearings.” You next have the option to browse by title, or you can narrow your results by Congress, chamber, committee, and/or keyword found in the full-text document. On the left-hand side of the results screen, you can narrow your results by date, committee, and title.
Free Governmental Resources
FDsys – If you are looking for a recent committee hearing, i.e. a hearing published from 1985 to the present, you might want to visit the Government Publishing Office’s FDsys site, as it provides digital access to selected hearings from the 99th Congress to the current Congress. To access these hearings, simply select “Congressional Hearings” from the menu on the right-hand side of the FDsys homepage. Note, however, that the FDsys website only contains selected hearings, so if you are unable to find the hearing you seek, you might want to visit a library to use one of the subscription databases listed above, or the print resources listed below.
Congress.gov and Committee Pages – Many congressional committees make recent hearing information, such as transcripts, pre-prepared testimony, and video, available on their websites. To locate recent House and Senate hearings on individual committee pages, we suggest utilizing Congress.gov committee landing pages. Simply select a committee from the committee landing page, and then click on the link to the committee’s webpage in the overview box. Further, if you click the “View video streams” link on the committee landing page, you can watch House committee hearings as they happen or view archived clips of recent hearings.
House Committee Repository – You can also locate House congressional committee hearing schedules and associated documents at the new House Committee Repository website. The Repository contains selected House committee hearings from 2009 to the present.
Law.gov – The Law Library of Congress, in collaboration with Google, has scanned selected hearings on the U.S. Census, Freedom of Information/Privacy, and Immigration, and has made them available through law.gov
Free Third-Party Resources
HathiTrust Digital Library – Many hearings are available in the HathiTrust, a collection of digitized materials from academic and research institutions around the world. If you know the title of the hearing, you can use the drop-down menu to choose “title” and then type in the title. If you are looking for hearings from a specific committee, you choose “author” on the drop-down menu and then type in the name of the committee.
Internet Archive – The Internet Archive also contains a wide variety of hearings. If you know the title of the hearing, you can type it in the “title” field. If you are looking for hearings from a specific committee, type in the name of the committee in the “creator” field.
Researchers can also access hearings through print-based resources. The two main print-based resources for published congressional committee hearings were both initially collected by the Congressional Information Service (CIS), and are titled CIS US Congressional Committee Hearings Index and the CIS Index (also known as the CIS Annual). The two resources are largely divided by coverage dates, with the CIS US Congressional Committee Hearings Index dealing with hearings from 1833 to 1969, and the CIS Annual dealing with hearings from 1970 to the present.
Because the Hughes hearing occurred in the late 1940s, a print-based researcher would turn to the CIS Congressional Committee Hearings Index, specifically the volumes covering the 79th – 82nd Congresses, 1945-1952. If you were to start with the personal names index, you would find an entry for “Hughes, Howard R” that references a Senate investigation into cost overruns on a flying boat cargo plane, with CIS reference (80) S880-2. If I did not know the name of a witness, I could also have chosen the index by subjects and organizations volume, and ultimately be brought to the same reference number. This CIS reference number can be used to pull up the hearing on microfiche or be used in ProQuest Congressional’s search by number feature. This hearing spans several days and was published in several parts, so you would want to take advantage of the table of contents in the hearing to jump to particular exchanges of interest.
We hope this helps you with your congressional committee hearings research. If you have any questions, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.
For people who would like to access the print version of a published hearing, the best bet is the Federal Depository Library Program. A Federal Depository Library can help locate and, in many cases, borrow the print version of a hearing from a library, often within the same state or region. Find the closest FDL here: http://www.fdlp.gov/about-the-fdlp/federal-depository-libraries