House Office of Legislative Counsel
From the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Office of the Legislative Counsel provides legislative drafting services to the committees and Members of the House of Representatives on a non-partisan, impartial, and confidential basis. Our goal is to work with committees and Members to understand their policy preferences in order to implement those preferences through clear, concise, and legally effective legislative language.
Our website provides a number of resources to assist the public in understanding the role of our Office and the basics of legislative drafting. The top menu bar allows you to explore our role within the House and the history of our Office, career opportunities within our Office, the considerations that precede drafting, and our comprehensive guide to reading and drafting legislation. On the left menu bar, we provide various important resources, including selected compilations of public laws prepared by our Office.
(See also §030. Legislative Drafting)
General History of the House Office of Legislative Counsel
The following is an excerpt from the testimony of the Legislative Counsel of the House, Sandra Strokoff, before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations. This testimony was heard on March 4, 2014:
The statutory charter of the Office of the Legislative Counsel charges the office with the duty to advise and assist the House, its committees, and Members in the achievement of a “clear, faithful, and coherent expression of legislative policies”. Our goal, therefore, is to prepare drafts that accurately reflect the legislative objectives of the Member or committee concerned, that are legally sufficient to carry out that policy, and that are as clear and well organized as possible under the circumstances. Although this goal may not be achieved in every case, we always seek, to the extent possible within existing time constraints, to improve the clarity and technical accuracy of the legislative product, avoid drafting errors, reduce unnecessary confusion, and avoid future litigation.
The office is neutral as to issues of legislative policy. Since our inception, we have provided legislative drafting assistance to Members representing all political viewpoints while maintaining confidentiality with each client.
Professional legislative drafting in the House of Representatives began in 1916 as an experiment offered to the House by a professor at Columbia Law School, Middleton Beaman. The experiment was regarded by the House as a success, and Mr. Beaman was appointed Legislative Counsel to the House in 1918 pursuant to an amendment to the Revenue Act of 1918. At first, the office focused primarily on tax legislation. Over the following decades, the work of the office gradually expanded to cover every area of Federal law. A statutory charter for the office was enacted in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970. This was followed by an expansion in staff and, over time, a gradual change to the current specialization system within the office. Under that system, each attorney primarily handles legislative drafting requests in specific areas of Federal law and strives to achieve a high level of substantive knowledge and expertise in those areas.
In addition to performing our primary function of drafting legislation, we also provide several ancillary services to the House. Most important among these is the preparation of Ramseyers for committees for inclusion in committee reports as required by clause 3(e) of House Rule XIII, as well as the preparation of each bill as reported to the House.
In recent years, the period between final committee action on a reported bill and the filing of the committee report (including the Ramseyer) has become increasingly compressed. Until 2009, we were sometimes unable to complete the Ramseyers in time for the filing of committee reports. This required that the Rules Committee issue a waiver of clause 3(e) of House Rule XIII. Clearly, this was an unsatisfactory situation. We were urged by several committees to find a way to solve this problem, and we requested funding from this subcommittee for that purpose.
We developed unique software to speed up the production of Ramseyers in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 and we began implementing that software in fiscal year 2009. It is now more likely that we will be able to prepare Ramseyers for almost every reported bill, even for large bills with short deadlines. For example, our staff prepared the 750-page Ramseyer for H.R. 5 (the Student Success Act), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, in a short period of time in order that the report on the bill could be filed before the bill was brought to the floor. This would have been an impossible task without the software. The software used to produce the Ramseyers does not require any additional in-house staff, but it does require contractor support and maintenance on an ongoing basis, the cost of which is included in our budget request for software systems discussed below.
In the first session of the 113th Congress, our office received 297 requests for the preparation of materials for bills reported to the House. In addition to the Ramseyers, we also provide the committees, the Members of the House, and the Senate Legislative Counsel with electronic compilations of up-to-date versions of the most frequently amended Public Laws. For many years these were printed by the Government [Publishing] Office (GPO) for various House committees in bound volumes. The material contained in these documents provides the building blocks for our Ramseyers. It also represents the only current version of approximately two-thirds of ail Federal law, and is, therefore, essential to understanding and drafting all bills amending existing law. Beginning with the 112th Congress, we began maintaining electronic compilations of virtually all Public Laws for use in the production of Ramseyers and for electronic distribution to meet the needs of the House. Again, specialized software has been developed and implemented in support of this function, the cost of which is included in our budget request for software systems discussed below.
While our staffing is inadequate to enable us to provide assistance to the committees in the preparation of these valuable compilation documents for printing by the Government Printing Office on a continuing basis, we do recognize how vital they are to the committees of jurisdiction, to the Members, and to the entire legislative process. Therefore, we have begun to make compilations of major laws that we prepare in our office available to the entire House on our office’s Web site in the form of current Adobe Acrobat PDF files. These documents are essential to the lawmaking process but are not available from any other source inside the Congress or elsewhere. (This does not include the United States Code provisions that are available from the Law Revision Counsel or from copyrighted, outside, nongovernmental sources.)
Because of changes in the House Rules in the 112th Congress requiring the submission of constitutional authority statements accompanying all bills being introduced, the office developed forms for this purpose, accessible on the office’s Web site, along with additional information to assist Members and staff in completing the forms. Attorneys in the office have also provided guidance, upon request, to Members and staff regarding appropriate clauses of the Constitution for particular types of legislation. In addition, the office provides guidance regarding the application of the “protocols” of the leadership relating to the consideration of legislation on the House floor. Among the duties we consider ancillary to our primary purpose, we also frequently assist some Members, at their request, in putting their own legislative language in XML format and the proper statutory style but without analysis, review, or correction by attorneys. These are situations where the Member concerned, or someone on the Member’s staff, requires legislative language so quickly that we cannot process it through our normal system of attorney analysis and review. Unfortunately, this is not an insignificant part of our work, but since we consider it purely a clerical function, we are exploring ways to address these requests. Clerical or paralegal staff may format the requests with little or no attorney supervision.
Given the current size of our staff (46 attorneys) and our current workload, we are not able to provide certain other additional services that are often requested. These include extensive research, preparing side-by-side analyses of House and Senate bills, drafting explanatory language for committee reports, and preparing summaries or analyses of sections or bills. These tasks are more appropriately performed by other offices such as the Congressional Research Service.
In addition, in order to maintain our impartiality, it has always been our policy not to prepare letters or memoranda explaining, defending, promoting, or justifying any particular legislative proposal.
 A compilation of the extremely complex health care legislation, enacted in 2010, was prepared by attorneys in our office, and was made widely available through joint publication by several committees. This compilation has become a primary resource in the Nation for analyzing and proposing revisions to the health care law.
United States. Congress, House. Committee on House Appropriations, Hearing on Legislative Branch Appropriations for 2015, March 4, 2014. 113th Cong. 2d sess. Washington: GPO, 2005 (statement of Sandra Strokoff, Legislative Counsel, Office of the Legislative Counsel) pp. 254-259. [GPO Link]
Codification to the U.S. Code
CHAPTER 9—OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL (sections 271 to 282e)
Ernest Wade Ballou Jr.