Congressional Committee Reform

Congressional Committee Reform

Watching Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve, testify before a congressional committee, February 10, 2009, the proceedings raised some concern as to the mechanics of conducting the meeting.  Each committee member is allowed to ask questions within a set amount of time, I believe 5 minutes.  Just about all the questions were pretty darn good and right on target.  At times it seemed each committee member was in competition for achieving that night the best sound bite for TV news shows and including time consuming remarks about how his or her constituents were in pain about this devastating recession.  Many of the questions were painted with conservative vs liberal values which also added verbiage.  At times, the most important, deep in complexity  questions were stated for too long a period so that Bernanke had not time to respond.  The chairman stated that Bernanke could respond in writing which will be hard for you and I to flush out to read.   If one were to sum up the proceedings, the effort seemed to reveal very little new information but became a course in Federal Reserve policy that would be quite nice for high school and college courses.

Three suggestions:

  • The committee chairman might ask each committee member to limit questions to two minutes thus giving three minutes for answers.  I am sure that will go over really big with the senators.
  • The individual that testifies before the committee is allowed a set number times he or she can go beyond the time limit a personal option that they are allowed to exercise.  This, I think, is a decent middle ground, reasonable solution.
  • The most radical idea is to have an individual sit beside the chairman who represents the interest of the people to extend comment periods to another set time limit.  Each activation of this option may only be exercised a few times in total per session or per hour.  This person might come from a rotating list of government watchdog organizations.  This individual can ONLY extend the answer segment and can NOT make any, on the record, statements but remain mute in the process only indicating to the chairperson to extend the witness comments, the answer time.  This idea is too complex to be taken seriously.   It is prone to being morphed into something more or less than it was intended by some of the senators.  It’s recommendation is only put forth here for purpose that the senate might take to it because it is so muddy and prone to being morphed into political leverage that we do not yet see and thus might be honey on a stick and meet some amount of consideration.

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