Accessing House Records
After the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the Clerk of the House authorized the transfer of the 1st through the 76th Congresses (7,500 cubic feet) of records to the National Archives. This practice of transferring records to the National Archives was added to the House Rules that were adopted at the beginning of the 83rd Congress in January 1953.
A push for increased transparency in congressional activity in the mid-1970s and early 1980s resulted in more open committee sessions and wider publication of hearing transcripts and other committee materials. As a result, the Rules Committee, led by Chairman Joe Moakley, considered revising access policies for House records.
In 1988, the Rules Committee reported Resolution 419 to the House; it reduced the time most House records were closed to the public from 50 years to 30 years and did away with the requirement for the public to obtain the Clerk’s permission to access the records. The resolution was included among the House Rules approved at the outset of the 101st Congress (1989–1991), and it remains in effect today as House Rule VII.
House Rule VII governs official House records, requiring committees and officers to transfer to the Clerk, 1) any noncurrent records of committees and subcommittees, and 2) those created or acquired by House Officers and their staffs in the course of their official duties. Rule VII also outlines the access restriction periods for House records. Most House records can be opened after 30 years from the date of creation. Records containing information closed by statute, executive session transcripts, and most investigative records are closed for 50 years.
House Rule VII
House Rule VII is the portion of the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives that pertains to official records and their disposition and access restrictions. The text of the rule follows.
1. (a) At the end of each Congress, the chair of each committee shall transfer to the Clerk any noncurrent records of such committee, including the subcommittees thereof.
(b) At the end of each Congress, each officer of the House elected under rule II shall transfer to the Clerk any noncurrent records made or acquired in the course of the duties of such officer.
2. The Clerk shall deliver the records transferred under clause 1, together with any other noncurrent records of the House, to the Archivist of the United States for preservation at the National Archives and Records Administration. Records so delivered are the permanent property of the House and remain subject to this rule and any order of the House.
3. (a) The Clerk shall authorize the Archivist to make records delivered under clause 2 available for public use, subject to clause 4(b) and any order of the House.
(b)(1) A record shall immediately be made available if it was previously made available for public use by the House or a committee or a subcommittee.
(2) An investigative record that contains personal data relating to a specific living person (the disclosure of which would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy), an administrative record relating to personnel, or a record relating to a hearing that was closed under clause 2(g)(2) of rule XI shall be made available if it has been in existence for 50 years.
(3) A record for which a time, schedule, or condition for availability is specified by order of the House shall be made available in accordance with that order. Except as otherwise provided by order of the House, a record of a committee for which a time, schedule, or condition for availability is specified by order of the committee (entered during the Congress in which the record is made or acquired by the committee) shall be made available in accordance with the order of the committee.
(4) A record (other than a record referred to in subparagraph (1), (2), or (3)) shall be made available if it has been in existence for 30 years.
4. (a) A record may not be made available for public use under clause 3 if the Clerk determines that such availability would be detrimental to the public interest or inconsistent with the rights and privileges of the House. The Clerk shall notify in writing the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on House Administration of any such determination.
(b) A determination of the Clerk under paragraph (a) is subject to later orders of the House and, in the case of a record of a committee, later orders of the committee.
5. (a) This rule does not supersede rule VIII or clause 11 of rule X and does not authorize the public disclosure of any record if such disclosure is prohibited by law or executive order of the President.
(b) The Committee on House Administration may prescribe guidelines and regulations governing the applicability and implementation of this rule.
(c) A committee may withdraw from the National Archives and Records Administration any record of the committee delivered to the Archivist under this rule. Such a withdrawal shall be on a temporary basis and for official use of the committee.
Definition of record
6. In this rule the term “record” means any official, permanent record of the House (other than a record of an individual Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner), including—
(a) with respect to a committee, an official, permanent record of the committee (including any record of a legislative, oversight, or other activity of such committee or a subcommittee thereof); and
(b) with respect to an officer of the House elected under rule II, an official, permanent record made or acquired in the course of the duties of such officer.
Withdrawal of papers
7. A memorial or other paper presented to the House may not be withdrawn from its files without its leave. If withdrawn certified copies thereof shall be left in the Office of the Clerk. When an act passes for the settlement of a claim, the Clerk may transmit to the officer charged with the settlement thereof the papers on file in the Office of the Clerk relating to such claim. The Clerk may lend temporarily to an officer or bureau of the executive departments any papers on file in the Office of the Clerk relating to any matter pending before such officer or bureau, taking proper receipt therefore.