U.S. Capitol, Courtesy of
Environmental Protection Agency
The purpose of this guide is to help researchers locate, read and analyze publications of the U.S. Congress.
The following simplified overview of law-making provides context for the various U.S. Congressional documents.
The process of creating laws begins when a member of Congress proposes a new law by writing and introducing a bill in the House or Senate. The bill is referred to a committee, where it may be debated, tabled, or dropped. If it's debated, and the committee holds hearings in which witnesses testify, those hearings can be published at the discretion of the committee. If the committee recommends the legislation for approval, the committee publishes a report. By law, those reports must be published. The president may send a message to Congress about legislation in the form of a document. The bill will usually be debated on the floors of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congressional Record publishes those debates. When both houses of Congress agree on the working of the bill, the bill becomes a law.
Govinfo, the U.S. Government Publishing Office's free database of digitized federal publications, has excellent detailed introductory information about bills, hearings, reports and documents. A uncomplicated overview of the law-making process can be found in Ben's Guide. For a more in-depth description, please see How our Laws are Made, 2007, by John Sullivan, Parliamentarian, U.S. House of Representatives and Enactment of a Law, 1997, by Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian, U.S. Senate.
Please see the tabbed sections of this guide for more detail about each type of Congressional publication.