Committee reports provide background and interpretation of legislation, and they form part of the legislative history. While recommendations, instructions and directives in committee reports are not binding, the executive branch ignores them at its own peril. Committee reports are an excellent place to include commentary that is either too controversial or too detailed to include in the text of the legislation.
Committee reports can be issued to accompany legislation, nominations, and treaties, and may include statements of minority or dissenting views. Committees may also issue non-legislative reports, such as reports of investigations, travel and hearings.
- When asking for specific language to be inserted in Appropriations or Armed Services Committee reports, clearly explain the background and justifications for the language. Committee staff may rewrite your proposed language, and it is important they understand what you are trying to accomplish.
- Follow up on report language with briefings, letters and phone calls, so that the administration knows someone cares and is watching.
- Report language that merely states an opinion or an expectation is unlikely to result in a policy change.
- Use committee reports to explain the meaning and rationale behind legislative provisions. Legislative intent is not always clear from the text.
- Non-Legislative Report Sets the Policy Agenda. The 1974 report of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, known as the Fraser Committee, contains a series of human rights recommendations, many of which remain relevant to this day.
- Report Language Given Power of Law. From FY 2008 through FY 2015, 15 percent of Mexico’s military and counter-narcotics assistance was subject to human rights requirements relating to the investigation and prosecution in the civilian justice system of military and police personnel credibly alleged to have violated human rights. At first, the conditions were spelled out in bill text, but in FY 2014 (Sec. 7045(f) of PL 113-76) and 2015 (Sec. 7045(g) of PL 113-235), those conditions were moved into report language and specifically referenced in law. These requirements, along with continuing pressure from Mexican and international human rights groups, led to the approval by the Mexican Congress of changes to the Military Code of Justice allowing trial in civilian courts for soldiers accused of gross human rights violations against civilians.
- Report Language in Lieu of Bill Language. The Senate Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2016 SFOA directs the Secretary of State to make an appropriate human trafficking hotline telephone number and website information available in public waiting areas in all U.S. embassies and consulates in a timely manner.
- Expressing Continuing Concerns. The House Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2008 SFOA contained language – continued but modified each year thereafter – expressing its concerns about allegations of sexual abuse of minors by UN peacekeepers and civilian personnel. That year, the Committee also commended the State Department for taking a leading role in urging the UN to take preventive measures.
- Ensuring Human Rights Considered. When, in 2000, the Clinton administration proposed (and Congress approved) significant resources to support Plan Colombia, the Senate Appropriations Committee included in its SFOA report ( Rept. 106-291) a long list of concerns, recommendations, and initiatives relating to the protection of human rights workers, strengthening of democratic institutions, establishment of civilian oversight mechanisms, and support for civil society participation. This language was important in shaping and guiding the overall program, and it laid the basis for subsequent statutory conditions on aid.