Office of House Legislative Counsel

Middleton Beaman (center) with others in a US House hearing room/tiles/non-collection/l/leg_counsel_beaman_loc_24091v.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Legislative Counsel Middleton Beaman (middle) attends a House hearing on February 18, 1938.

The Office of Legislative Counsel provides nonpartisan and impartial technical advice to Members and committees in the drafting of bills, resolutions, and amendments at all stages of the legislative process. The office also assists House committees and conference committees—which settle differences between conflicting versions of bills passed by the House and Senate—draft reports and explanatory statements.

In the early years of the twentieth century, several state legislatures (including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Kansas) pioneered the idea of using legal professionals to write legislation. Professional drafting services in the U.S. House began as an experiment a few years later, in 1916, when the Drafting Research Fund at Columbia University sponsored Middleton Beaman, a Columbia law professor, to advise the Ways and Means Committee as it drafted several complex bills in the 64th and 65th Congresses (1915–1919). Beaman saw his job as helping lawmakers put their policy choices on paper clearly, concisely, and unambiguously, and in language that fulfilled their legislative intent. Even in an era when lawmakers had begun to rely on expert research to formulate policy, the legislation Members hoped would put that policy into effect was often the result of sloppy or rushed drafting. As Beaman once told a gathering of law librarians, “The not unusual practice of some of our commissions, appointed to draft bills, of spending six months working out policies and a day and a half in actually drafting their bill, inevitably results in a poor bill, however wise and sound the policies decided upon.”

As part of the Revenue Act of 1918 (Public Law, 65–254; 40 Stat. 1057), Congress institutionalized the services Beaman provided, creating two semi-autonomous branches—one focusing on the House, the other on the Senate—living under the same roof, called the Legislative Drafting Service. The Speaker appointed Beaman the first House Legislative Draftsman, a post that he held until after World War II. Initially focused on revenue bills, Beaman and the Legislative Drafting Service quickly expanded to cover the full range of legislation considered in the House.

The Revenue Act of 1924 (Public Law, 68–176; 43 Stat. 253) renamed the drafting service the Office of Legislative Counsel—largely to avoid confusion with the Legislative Reference Service (the forerunner of the modern Congressional Research Service), which provided Members with policy analysis.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (Public Law, 91–510; 84 Stat. 1140) made the House Office of Legislative Counsel its own entity separate from the Senate. A charter under Title V of the act stipulated that the Legislative Counsel was “to advise and assist the House of Representatives, and its committees and Members, in the achievement of a clear, faithful, and coherent expression of legislative policies.” Unlike most other House officials appointed by the Speaker, the Legislative Counsel is covered by statute and is not included in House Rule II.

Legislative CounselsTerm of Service
Middleton Beaman1919–1949
Allan H. Perley1949–1963
Edward O. Craft1963–1973
Ward M. Hussey1973–1989
David E. Meade1989–1999
Pope Barrow1999–2009
Sandra Strokoff2009–2017
Ernest Wade Ballou Jr.2017-present

Sources: Office of Legislative Counsel, “Our Services,” https://legcounsel.house.gov/HOLC/About_Our_Office/Our_Services.html (accessed 5 June 2019); Office of the Legislative Counsel, “History and Charter,” https://legcounsel.house.gov/HOLC/About_Our_Office/History_and_Charter.html (accessed 5 June 2019); Congressional Record, House, 65th Cong. 3rd sess. (27 February 1919); Congressional Record, House (Appendix), 65th Cong. 2nd sess. (6 September 1918); Middleton Beaman, “Bill Drafting,” Law Library Journal 12 (1914).