The Center for Legislative Archives

Research Interview Notes of Richard F. Fenno, Jr. with Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1959-1965



Interview Notes Index

Access to this interview is subject to the deed of gift of December 14, 1993.


Interview with Rep. Robert L. F. Sikes (D-FL)
April 1964
On his possible chairmanship of the military construction subcommittee: "Barring a revolution, I'll be chairman."

"The rules of the Committee permit the chairman to constitute and reconstitute the subcommittee as he sees fit. But if he went around helter skelter removing subcommittee chairmen, he would find himself outvoted by his own Committee. The subcommittee chairmen and the subcommittee members would find a community of interests in seeing that the same thing did not happen to all of them. If he tried to do that, he'd be set down pretty fast. He can't be a dictator. But he can almost be a dictator if he has the loyalty of his subcommittee chairman." He agreed that is the way Cannon runs the Committee.

On the conference committee controversy: "Off the record, it was pretty silly. It wasted a lot of time and held up the work of the government. You have some pretty old men on the committees, and they were jealous of their rights and prerogatives. Once it was started, it became a matter of prestige." He spoke of the controversy as being resolved. He thought the House view "had merit," that they shouldn't have had to walk "way over there" -- especially since they initiated appropriations. On all of his subcommittees, the chairmanship now alternates between a House member and a Senate member.

"Occasionally," the leadership will intervene when it's an administration matter. Also, he pointed out, Committee members occasionally solicit the help of the leadership. When the leadership comes to the Committee, "they will contact the subcommittee chairman and the subcommittee members on an individual basis." "Normally, they leave things to the Committee."

He agreed that subcommittees do not see each other's work until it is reported in the full Committee. He says he could sit in on another subcommittee if he wanted to (at the hearings), but he has no time.

He talked about John Taber a long time without saying much. "Men like that don't come along very often." "A rare edition of a man." "Strong voiced and strong opinioned." He said there might be less partisanship since Taber left, the idea being that Taber was vigorous in his advocacy of whatever he advocated and, that Jensen is less vigorous.

He said he favored the abolition of the deficiencies subcommittee, and that there was a lot of sentiment to that effect from other subcommittees. "Of course, there is another side of it." The idea was that the deficiencies subcommittee would not be as intimate with the agencies and would require "more proof" than the ordinary subcommittee. He said that most of the other subcommittees generally agreed that the deficiencies subcommittees should be abolished.

He said hearings were necessary because of the changes in weaponry, etc. He called them "briefings" -- the implication being that he needed to get information from the agencies.

He thinks on the whole they do a good job, but he wants more staff. "There are certain weaknesses in the process. The hearings take a long time. We spend too much time in there on routine matters and waste the time of important government officials. I've always thought we should have a larger staff, that they should deal with details and leave the members of the Committee free to look at larger policy questions, instead of all this preoccupation with nuts and bolts. We've made a lot of progress in this direction since I came to the Committee fifteen years ago. But we have a long way to go."
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