The Senate's standing committees system began in 1816. Prior to that time, the Senate relied on temporary select committees. Three types of committees have evolved through the years: standing, select/special, and joint. Members receive committee assignments through their party conferences. As "little legislatures," committees monitor governmental operations, review legislation, provide oversight, and recommend courses of action to the full Senate.
The authority of Congress to investigate is an implied constitutional power. James Madison anticipated the significance of congressional inquiry in Federalist No. 51 when he urged: "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men . . . you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." Congress has exercised its investigative responsibility since the earliest days of the republic. Today congressional oversight enables House and Senate members to serve as the eyes and ears of the American public.
These histories (pdf) are compiled by the committee and generally include information on the membership, jurisdiction, and important legislative issues the committee has handled. Histories are listed under the committee’s current name, unless that committee no longer exists.