To understand how the publications you locate in your research fit into the legislative process, you need to know a few of the more important identifying characteristics of the publications you may encounter along the way. Congressional publications have an identification system made up of three distinct pieces of information:
All publications are numbered following this system, and all three pieces of information are necessary to identify and locate the unique publication you may be researching among the thousands issued by Congress each year.
Number of the Congress
The life of each Congress is two years and each Congress has been numbered since the first Congress in 1789. The 104th Congress, for example, convened in January 1995 and ran until October 1996; the 105th Congress began in January 1997. Since World War II, the two-year Congress has been divided into two sessions (first and second), each lasting one year. Prior to the 77th Congress (1941-42), there occasionally were three or four session Congresses; some of these sessions were for a very short duration, sometimes lasting only a month or less.
See the Sessions of Congress chart for details on each congress and session.
The numbering of Congressional publications is sequential within each publication type, beginning with the number "1" in every Congress. This means that each Congress will have a bill numbered H.R. 1, so knowing the number of the Congress is important. Bills not acted upon when the two-year Congress adjourns sine die are considered to have expired. To be considered in the next Congress, these bills must be reintroduced and numbered in the new Congress' sequential order of bills. So, H.R. 1 from the 104th Congress can be very different from a bill numbered H.R. 1 from the 100th Congress. Knowing the Congress number ensures that you've got the right H.R. 1.
1) Frequently, it takes more than one Congress to pass a piece of legislation. Should a Member of Congress reintroduce a piece of legislation in a new Congress, he or she can ask the Bill Clerk to assign a special bill number, such as its previous Congressional bill number, to the bill when the it is reintroduced.
2) When looking at legislation you also need the version . (Fortunately, it is only with legislation - bills etc., - that version is important.) You need to be sure you know which version of the bill you should be researching. Nothing is more frustrating than finishing your research using one version of legislation (such as the bill reported by one committee) only to discover that it had been replaced by a later version (the version that was amended and passed).
The final critical piece of identifying information is the type of publication. For example, "H.R. 1" tells you that the publication is the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives. It is a very different publication from "H.Rpt. 104-1" (an abbreviation for House of Representatives Report Number 1 from the 104th Congress), and completely different from "S. 1" (Senate bill number 1), "H.Res. 1," (House Resolution number 1), "H.J. Res. 1," (House Joint Resolution number 1), or "H.Con. Res. 1" (House Concurrent Resolution number 1).
Understanding this system of identifying congressional information sources, you should be able to recognize and use any publication you encounter during your research.
In addition to the numbering system (based on Congress/Session) detailed above, some publications series have their own numbering systems. Some of these are listed here.
In 1983 (98th Congress) the Senate adopted a numbering system for hearings that is still used today, but the House does not have a numbering system for hearings (though some committees may number their hearings).
Transcripts of hearings are occasionally issued as or included in House or Senate reports or documents, in which case they are numbered as a report or a document.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has a numbering system it uses for reports, however this can change (as it did between 2005-07).