Committee System – The Workhorse of Congress, assignment help

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There are several websites dedicated to voters knowing their representatives in Congress and what they do. Your text refers to committees in the House and the Senate as the “workhorses of Congress;” the place where the real work of Congress is accomplished. The legislative committee system organizes Congress and the power centers of Congress are vested in the chairmanships of committees and subcommittees. Committee decisions determine:

  • Legislative proposals based on the membership of a committee and their political views
  • Oversight of the workings of agencies of the executive branch
  • Conduct investigations


  1. Review “An Overview of the Development of U.S. Congressional Committees” by Michael Welsh (with assistance by Ellen Sweet and Richard McKinney)
  2. Go to Government Track and locate your Senator or Representative. Review His or her Ideology Score, Committee Memberships, Bill Sponsorships/Co-Sponsorships, and Voting Record.
  3. Based on the information you find, write a memorandum to a Senator or Congressman on an issue you wish him/her to wield power in your interest based on committee assignments and voting records. Is the member on committees that are important to you and your district or state? Is the member sufficiently powerful to accomplish legislation that is important to you?


To: Senator or Congressman
From: John Doe
Date: September 9, 2013
Subject: The subject line should not exceed two lines.

NOTE: A memorandum to a U.S. Senator or U.S. Congressman is one page.


The issue statement sets out what happened, is happening, or will happen to trigger the memo. It should not exceed two or three lines. An issue statement elaborates on the subject line and outlines the specific trigger for the event, or decision. A “trigger” is more descriptive than “issue” for this paragraph. In defining the issue, determine how much is already known about the subject.

  • Start with an Issue Statement, NOT a Purpose Statement.
  • Example: Purpose Statement – You have already stated the purpose of the memo in your subject line. Issue Statement- This conveys a sense of urgency –the reason you are writing the briefing memo.


The body of the memo contains:

  • Background Section
  • Considerations Section

One approach to writing the body is to write the opening and closing paragraphs. Then ask yourself, “What will it take for readers to see that the closing paragraph is a sensible response to the opening paragraph?” The answer forms the body of your briefing memo.


Background provides explanatory material to bring the Senator or Congressman up to speed on what is happening or what has happened. This is where you provide information that will help the official understand the issue and its context.


Considerations provide information and arguments to justify your conclusion and/or recommendation. The considerations section provides findings, analyses, pros and cons, options, and arguments that lead the reader to the recommendation or an advisable response to the issue statement at the beginning of the memo.


Memos should close with either a recommendation or a conclusion. Recommendations should be brief. Do not present or repeat your rationale in the recommendations section. State specifically what the Senator or Congressman is being asked to do or decide, as opposed to stating a desirable outcome. Ask yourself: “If I read this recommendation, would I know what I am being asked to do?”


A memo for information should end with a conclusion. It should:

  • Clarify the issue or event; (Help the official see the forest through the trees).
  • Interpret the significance of the information.
  • Analyze the information in the memo, not just describe the situation.
  • Answer what happens next, or where you are in confronting the problem or process presented.
  • Never include “We will keep you informed,” “We are monitoring the situation,” or “We will brief you on any significant developments.” These are understood and expected.

NOTE: This is the format I use for my interns on Capitol Hill, and it is essentially the format I used when I represented the Canadian Embassy as a foreign agent. The Briefing Memo was the basis for every briefing/talking point memo I ever did for United States Career Ambassador, Elbridge Durbrow. 


Students will be able to evaluate how well or poorly their Member of Congress wields power in the interests of his/her constituency.


Assignment is worth 50 points toward your course grade. Refer to the following table to understand how this assignment will be graded:

Presents a line of argument that answers all aspects of assigned question 10 points
Focuses on factual/substantive evidence 15 points
Used wide range of appropriate examples and background material 10 points
Shows evidence of critical thinking 15 points

The response is worth 50 points toward your total course grade.

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