Adhering to Time Limits for Congressional Testimony

When preparing to give oral testimony before Congress , there are several rules and protocols you should be prepared to follow. One of these is the time limits for oral testimony.

Bell Pepper Stoplight
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jeffrey Beall

Time restrictions for witness testimony are often found in committee rules. The usual rule is five minutes, but in some cases committees allow for additional time, depending on the witness, the nature of the hearing and the issue. In most cases, the committee will allow up to ten minutes for additional testimony, but committee chairs do have some discretion regarding the allowance of more time based on the circumstances.

Generally, the committee staff will advise witnesses prior to the Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgehearing of their time limit. However, it is the responsibility of witnesses to consult the committee rules and check with committee staff before the hearing to be certain they understand the time restraints. It is better to ask ahead of time and be sure you know how much time will be available than to prepare testimony that will be too lengthy and time consuming.

There is usually a clock on the witness to assist witnesses in keeping track of time. There may also be a light system that is used for signaling time: the green light indicates the witness should proceed, a yellow light announces that time is about to expire, and a red light means the specified amount of time has ended. A committee staff member operates the time keeping device from the dais.

In the event that additional time is needed, the witness can request an additional minute or two, but no more. Committee chairs can enforce time limits strictly or be lenient. In order to be fair to all witnesses most committee chairs try to strike a balance between strict enforcement and leniency.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 2.96 Time Limits for Oral Testimony

For more than 40 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been teaching professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs about the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.

Our custom on-site and online training, publications, and audio courses include congressional operations, legislative and budget process, communication and advocacy, media and public relations, testifying before Congress, research skills, legislative drafting, critical thinking and writing, and more.

TheCapitol.Net is on the GSA Schedule, MAS, for custom on-site and online training. GSA Contract GS02F0192X

TheCapitol.Net is now owned by the Sunwater Institute.

Teaching how Washington and Congress work ™

Select publications from TheCapitol.Net