Advisory committees have played an important role in shaping programs and policies of the federal government from the earliest days of the Republic. Since President George Washington sought the advice of such a committee during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, the contributions made by these groups have been impressive and diverse.
Through enactment of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) of 1972 (Public Law 92-463), the U.S. Congress formally recognized the merits of seeking the advice and assistance of our nation's citizens to the executive branch of government. At the same time, the Congress also sought to assure that advisory committees:
- Provide advice that is relevant, objective, and open to the public;
- Act promptly to complete their work;
- Comply with reasonable cost controls and recordkeeping requirements; and
- Had government oversight through creation of the Committee Management Secretariat.
In 1976 the President assigned the Committee Management Secretariat to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). GSA’s role under FACA includes:
- Conducting annual reviews of advisory committee accomplishments;
- Responding to inquires from agencies on establishing new committees or the renewal of existing groups;
- Preparing an annual report covering a summary of committee activities; and
- Maintaining a FACA database from which advisory committee information may be obtained via the Internet.
Federal Agency Responsibility
Any advisory group, with limited exceptions, that is established or utilized by a federal agency and that has at least one member who is not a federal employee, must comply with the FACA. There are approximately 1,000 Federal advisory committees and 50 Federal agencies with FACA programs at any given time. Each federal agency that sponsors advisory committees must adhere to the requirements established by the FACA, as well as those administrative guidelines provided by GSA’s Committee Management Secretariat.
Together, GSA and the federal community work to eliminate the overlap or duplication of advisory bodies, terminate unnecessary or inactive committees, and develop committee management regulations, guidelines, and training in response to requirements of the executive branch and Congress.
Requirements for Establishing Federal Advisory Committees
Under FACA, Federal advisory committees can be created only when they are essential to the performance of a duty or responsibility conveyed upon the executive branch by law. This requires high-level officials within the sponsoring agency to review and approve the request to form a committee. Once a committee is approved, a charter is prepared outlining the committee's mission and specific duties, and forwarded to GSA's Committee Management Secretariat for final review. Following a required public notification period, and the filing of the charter with Congress, the committee may begin operation. Unless the renewal of a committee charter is justified under the FACA, the charter automatically expires after a two-year period (or as otherwise provided by law).
Agency Committee Management Officers and Designated Federal Officers
FACA also provides that each agency sponsoring a Federal advisory committee must appoint a Committee Management Officer to oversee the administration of the Act's requirements within their agency. In addition, a Designated Federal Officer must be assigned to each committee to:
- Call, attend, and adjourn committee meetings;
- Approve agendas;
- Maintain required records on costs and membership;
- Ensure efficient operations and adherence to FACA and other applicable laws;
- Maintain records for availability to the public; and
- Provide copies of committee reports to the Committee Management Officer for forwarding to the Library of Congress.
Open Access to Committee Meetings and Operations
FACA requires that Federal agencies sponsoring advisory committees must:
- Arrange meetings for reasonably accessible and convenient locations and times;
- Publish adequate advance notice of meetings in the Federal Register;
- Open advisory committee meetings to the public (unless an exemption from the "Government in the Sunshine Act" applies);
- Make available for public inspection, subject to the Freedom of Information Act, papers and records, including detailed minutes of each meeting; and
- Maintain records of expenditures.
Advisory Committee Members
Federal advisory committee members are drawn from nearly every occupational and industry group and geographical section of the United States and its territories. The FACA requires that committee memberships be "fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed." Selection of committee members is made based on the FACA's requirements and the potential member's background and qualifications. Final selection is made by the president or agency heads. Some members are subject to criminal conflict of interest laws, regulatory standards of ethical conduct, financial disclosure requirements, and other Federal ethics rules. The Office of Government Ethics has government-wide jurisdiction on federal ethics issues.