Since the mid-1970s, both chambers of Congress have convened early organization meetings in November or December of even-numbered years as a way to prepare for the beginning of the new Congress in January of the following year. Such meetings serve educational as well as social and organizational purposes.
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Educational sessions of early organizational meetings can range from meetings held on legislative procedures to hiring staff. Seminars on current policy issues may also be held. These sessions are typically taught by current congressional members or in some cases, former members, government practitioners and academic experts. Current issue sessions commonly focus on prior attempts at legislative changes, administrative policy and the outlook for action within the new Congress.
For new members of Congress, organizational sessions also provide a first introduction to Congress. Meetings are held for all freshmen, although other meetings may be held for all members of the incoming Congress. Meetings may also be organized according to party affiliation. Class officers are usually elected at the early meetings while party leaders are selected and chamber offices are chosen later. In addition, regional representatives to steering committees are also named. Actions involving committees are subject to official ratification by the Senate or the House at the beginning of the new Congress.
Official orientation programs for members-elect as well as their families are organized by the House Administration Committee and the Senate majority and minority leaders. During this time, orientation handbooks are provided, describing the official rules of each chamber, ethics regulations, office equipment information, roles of the chamber offices and services for legislative support agencies. During this time, party organization meetings are also typically held for returning members and members-elect.
Along with the formal Senate and House programs, other orientation programs may also be available. In recent years, numerous outside organizations have also begun holding policy seminars. For instance, a policy program for newly elected House members is presented by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The program runs for several days. The Heritage Foundation provides a seminar on policy issues for both House and Senate members-elect. Soon after the swearing-in ceremony in January, the Congressional Research Service will usually conduct a series of procedural and policy briefings specifically for newly elected House members and their families.
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