History and Charter
Professional legislative drafting in the House of Representatives began in 1916 as an experiment offered to the House by the Legislative Drafting Research Fund at Columbia University. Under the Fund’s auspices, Middleton Beaman, a Columbia law professor, assisted the Committee on Ways and Means in drafting several pieces of legislation over the next two years. The experiment was successful, and a Legislative Drafting Service was created by section 1303 of the Revenue Act of 1918. Beaman became the first Legislative Counsel of the House of Representatives.
While the early work of the Office of the Legislative Counsel was focused primarily on projects for the Committee on Ways and Means, other committees soon began requesting drafting assistance. The Office now works for all of the committees and Members of the House in every area of Federal law.
Throughout the Office’s history, it has enjoyed a strong reputation for providing high-quality drafting services on an impartial and confidential basis. Speaking during the floor debate on the establishment of the Office, the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means described Beaman’s services as “essential” and the Committee as being “indebted” to him for clarifying and simplifying the complex legislative provisions on which he worked. The Chairman emphasized that Beaman had always been “absolutely neutral” on policy matters.
Years later, a 1975 report by the House Commission on Information and Facilities concluded that there was “an unmistakable consensus among those who utilize the services of the Office of Legislative Counsel, Members and committee staff alike, that its overall operation is indeed a credit to the House.” Over a quarter of a century later still, in H. Res. 635 of the 111th Congress, the House recognized “the professional, nonpartisan service to which the Office of the Legislative Counsel is dedicated.”
The Office currently operates under title V of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 (2 U.S.C. 281 et seq.). Section 502 describes the purpose of the Office and sets forth the requirements of impartiality and confidentiality, as follows:
The purpose of the Office shall be 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. The Office shall maintain impartiality as to issues of legislative policy to be determined by the House of Representatives, and shall not advocate the adoption or rejection of any legislation except when duly requested by the Speaker or a committee to comment on a proposal directly affecting the functions of the Office. The Office shall maintain the attorney-client relationship with respect to all communications between it and any Member or committee of the House.
The Office is located in 337 Ford House Office Building and has additional meeting space in 2121 Rayburn House Office Building. It moved to Ford in August 2014 in connection with the renovation of Cannon House Office Building, its previous location of approximately 85 years.