History and Jurisdiction
The Committee on House Administration (CHA) was established in 1947 as part of a larger effort to streamline the U.S. House of Representatives' committee system and to modernize its internal management and operations. Now in its 70th year of existence, CHA's two principal functions include oversight of federal elections and day-to-day operations in the House.
Created by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, CHA was officially established on January 2, 1947, at the opening of the 80th Congress (1947-1949). The reorganization act, widely acknowledged as a critical milestone in modernizing the House, reduced the number of committees from 48 to 19. Prior to the reorganization, many panels had overlapping jurisdictions. Ten committees, with far-flung jurisdictions covering federal elections, memorial designations, and oversight of various House personnel and administrative functions, were consolidated under the new CHA.
Oversight of federal elections became one of the chief tasks of the committee. The responsibilities of several former panels-the Committee on the Election of the President, Vice President, and Representatives in Congress and the Elections Committees No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3-were vested in CHA. Under the leadership of its first chairman, Karl M. Le Compte of Iowa, one of the committee's early actions was to introduce legislation to outlaw the payment of poll taxes in federal elections. Historically, the committee has had a hand in shaping legislation that touches on any and all aspects of federal elections. Issues concerning corrupt practices, contested congressional elections, campaign finance disclosures, and credentials and qualifications of House Members also fall under its purview. Most recently, the committee played a pivotal role in the development and passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which allocated more then $3 billion to improve voting equipment, train election workers, and reform election law.
CHA also exerts great influence on the internal procedures and priorities of the daily operations of the institution. In its first three decades, the committee's influence grew as it attained the power to fix the level of allowances available to Members, to oversee House officers, to implement new services for Member offices, and to set human resources and management policies for staff and service personnel on the House side of Capitol Hill. CHA has a hand in a number of house-keeping duties outlined in House Rule X. These responsibilities range from disbursing appropriations for committee staff and member staff salaries to handling parking assignments, restaurant services, and the issuance of identification badges. The committee also administers travel allowances for Members, assigns office space, and compiles and publishes information related to campaign financial disclosures. CHA must approve the acceptance or purchase of works of art for the Capitol. Additionally, the committee has oversight of the Library of Congress, the House Library, the Botanic Gardens, and the Smithsonian Institution.
In more recent years the committee has focused on technology updates. Since 1971, with the introduction of House Information Systems, later named House Information Resources (HIR), the committee has introduced technological innovation to the institution. HIR became the primary computer support service for Members and committees. In the 1990s, CHA facilitated development of the House e-mail system and the availability of Internet access, and authorized software and networking upgrades to provide better electronic links between Members' Washington, D.C., offices and their district offices. In the late 1990s, CHA took a lead role in developing THOMAS, a Library of Congress Web site that provides public access to the Congressional Record, committee reports, roll call votes, and information of the status of bills pending before Congress. The committee also was a moving force in developing a House Intranet system, as well as a reliable cellular phone and text-messaging network for Members and staff.
Another major preoccupation since the 2001 terrorist attacks and Capitol Hill anthrax attacks has been improving security on the House side of the complex while maintaining a high level of accessibility for citizens. In its role as overseer of House security, the committee has worked closely with the Capitol Police. One of the committee's first challenges was to coordinate resources to secure the campus, facilitate evacuations when necessary, and suggest alternate locations for Congress to meet. Along with providing updated communications equipment to Members and staff, the committee also provided congressional offices with a campus-wide network for the announcement of emergency broadcasts.
For further reading
Donald C. Bacon, et al, eds. The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, Volume 2 (New York: Simon & Schuster): 1051-1053.
Garrison Nelson, et al., eds. Committees in the U. S. Congress, 1947-1992, Volume 2: Committee Histories and Member Assignments (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994): 1005-1006.