Committee History

The Armed Services Committee was created by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which merged the jurisdictions of the Committee on Military Affairs and the Committee on Naval Affairs.  The Committees on Military Affairs and Naval Affairs date back to 1822 when they were established as standing committees of the Congress.  They continued to function until they were abolished by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. The Committee on the Militia, the third predecessor committee, was created in 1835 and existed until 1911 when it was abolished and its jurisdiction transferred to the Committee on Military Affairs.

Committee on Military Affairs, 1822-1946

The Constitution of the United States grants Congress the powers to raise and support armies, and to make rules for the administration and regulation of land forces under the command of the President. In the House, a succession of select committees considered legislation on military affairs from 1811 until 1822, when the House established a standing Committee on Military Affairs. Section 12 of House Rule XI covered the committee's original purview and provided that:

It shall be the duty of the said Committee on Military Affairs to take into consideration all subjects relating to the military establishment and public defense, which may be referred to them by the House, and report, from time to time, such measures as may contribute to the economy and accountability in the said establishment.[1]

The committee assumed responsibility for affairs relating to the State militias when a rule change in 1911 abolished the Committee on the Militia.

Under the rule change of 1885 the committee was authorized to report the appropriation bills covering the military establishment, the public defense, and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. The committee reported the military appropriation bills until 1920 when that power was transferred to the Appropriations Committee.

Also included in the jurisdiction of the committee were subjects, such as the establishment and care of national cemeteries and battlefields; acquisition and conveyance of lands for military reservations and improvements upon such grounds; disposition of war trophies and distribution of obsolete weapons and armament; conduct of joint operations of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps; and promotion of military aviation and Army aeronautics. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 abolished the Committee on Military Affairs and transferred its jurisdiction to the newly-created Armed Services Committee.

Committee on the Militia, 1835-1911

Article I, section 8, of the Constitution of the United States grants Congress the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions," and to provide for "organizing, arming, and disciplining" the militia. The States retained the power to appoint the officers of the militia and the authority to train the militia according to the congressionally-mandated regimen of discipline. The Constitution (Article II, section 2), designated the President of the United States as the Commander-in-Chief of the aggregate militia forces of the States when they were called upon to support the Regular Army and Navy.

On May 8, 1792, Congress passed the Militia Act authorizing the States to enroll and organize for military service all able-bodied free white citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. The War of 1812 exposed serious deficiencies in the performance of the militia forces, and in 1815, Richard H. Wilde of Georgia proposed that a standing Committee on the Militia be established.[2] The House rejected his proposal and continued to use select committees to deal with militia affairs on an ad hoc basis for the next 20 years.

The standing Committee on the Militia was created on December 10, 1815, with jurisdiction over miscellaneous aspects of the militia organization and operation in the several States and the District of Columbia. The Committee's jurisdiction included fostering greater efficiency in the militia units, encouraging rifle practice, reorganizing the militia, and issuing armaments to the militia units and later to the National Guard or voluntary militia units that replaced them.

The committee was not terminated until 1911 although it had exercised little influence after the passage of the Dick Military Act of January 31, 1903. That law, combined with other concurrent military reforms, integrated the National Guard organizations in the States with the Regular Army, largely eliminating the need for direct congressional supervision of the implementation of the now obsolete 1792 militia law. After 1911, the House Military Affairs committee assumed the functions and powers that had formerly been in the jurisdiction of the Militia Committee.

Committee on Naval Affairs, 1822-1946

The Constitution of the United States grants Congress the power to provide and maintain a Navy and designates the President as its commander-in-chief. Select committees were appointed in the House to consider legislation pertaining to naval affairs during every Congress from 1809 until 1822 when the standing Committee on Naval Affairs was created. The jurisdiction of the committee, which remained unchanged for more than 60 years was as follows:

  • It shall be the duty of the Committee on Naval Affairs to take into its consideration all matters which concern the naval establishment, and which shall be referred to them by the House, and to report their opinion thereupon; and also to report, from time to time, such measures as may contribute to the economy and accountability of the said establishment.[3]

In 1885 a House Rule change amended the committee's jurisdiction to cover all legislation relating to the Naval Establishment, including the naval appropriations bills. A 1920 change in House rules removed the jurisdiction over appropriations from the committee and returned it to the Appropriations Committee. The Naval Affairs Committee's jurisdiction then included the following: "the naval establishment, including increase or reduction of commissioned officers and enlisted men and their pay and allowances and the increase of ships or vessels of all classes of the Navy." [4]

During the 20th century, the jurisdiction of the committee was expanded to include naval and marine aeronautics; the construction of aircraft carriers for the Navy; the acquisition of sites for naval facilities, and the establishment, construction, improvement, and maintenance of such facilities; the authorization of special decorations, orders, medals, and other insignia for naval personnel, and the acceptance of offices and emoluments from foreign governments; claims of personnel and civilian employees of the Navy; and legislation relating to the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, the Marine Band, the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve, the Naval Observatory, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey (in part).

The committee was abolished under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 and its jurisdiction incorporated into that of the Armed Services Committee created under the 1946 act.

Committee on the Armed Services, 1947-68

The committee was established under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which merged the jurisdictions of the former committees on Naval Affairs, and on Military Affairs to form a single committee, the Committee on the Armed Services. The jurisdiction of the new committee included the following subjects:

a) Common defense generally. b) The Department of Defense generally, including the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force generally. c) Ammunition depots; forts; arsenals; Army, Navy and Air Force reservations and establishments. d) Conservation, development, and use of naval petroleum and oil shale reserves. e) Pay, promotion, retirement, and other benefits and privileges of members of the armed forces. f) Scientific research and development in support of the armed services. g) Selective service. h) Size and composition of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. i) Soldiers' and sailors' homes. j) Strategic and critical materials necessary for the common defense.[5]

The committee has functioned through numerous subcommittees, the names and number of which vary from Congress to Congress. Through most of its history there have been four or five standing legislative subcommittees, several special subcommittees appointed to conduct specific studies, and an oversight or investigating subcommittee. The records that have been preserved reflect the complex and often technical nature of the subjects dealt with by the committee, and its reliance on subcommittees to perform most of the work.


[1] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 17th Cong., 1st sess., Mar. 13, 1822, p. 351.

[2] Annals of the Congress of the United States, 14th Cong., 1st sess., Dec. 7, 1815, p. 380.

[3] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 31st Cong., 1st sess., p. 1612.

[4] Clarence Cannon, Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1935), vol. 7, p. 781.

[5] U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States, Ninetieth Congress, H. Doc. 529, 89th Cong., 2d sess., 1967, p. 332.