Although the idea of testifying before Congress can naturally be daunting, there are many reasons why you might need to do so and not all of them would involve being in the “hot seat”.
There are usually two types of witnesses who testify before Congress. They are primary witnesses and supporting witnesses. A primary witness will respond directly to the questions of the committee while a supporting witness will answer questions that are referred to them by the primary witness.
There are different types of hearings and different goals for each hearing. For instance, there may be a legislative hearing or a posture hearing. There can also be hearings that are investigative in nature. The goal of a legislative hearing is usually to explain what will happen if funding is not appropriated. The goal of an investigative hearing is to highlight corrective actions or sometimes admit failures. (For more on the various kinds of congressional hearings, see Section 1.50 The Purposes and Types of Congressional Hearings in Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge.)
One reason why you might be called to testify before Congress is if you have expressed an opinion regarding a piece of legislation that is being considered. For example, if you are vocal in your support or opposition regarding a bill that is up for consideration and your opinion is considered to be valuable regarding that legislation, you might be called to testify. You might also be called to testify before Congress if you are considered to be knowledgeable or an expert regarding a particular issue that relates to a bill or piece of legislation that is being considered by Congress.
Of course, there may also be instances in which you may be called to testify before Congress if the hearing is investigative in nature. If that is the case, then you should be represented by an attorney when you testify.
When you must testify before Congress, it is important to understand who may also be in attendance. Depending on the nature of the hearing, the audience at the hearing could include school children who are visiting on field trips, tourists and other visitors to the Capitol, government employees, adult students from local universities and family members who may be affected by the proposed legislation. Members of the press may also be in attendance and you should be prepared for questions from reporters after the hearing. (If you need basic media training, see our Media Relations 101 course.)
Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge
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