Can the Senate See the Future?

U.S. Senate committees have various responsibilities. They evaluate nominees for executive branch positions, conduct oversight, and review legislation. Committees use hearings as a primary tool to find facts, analyze policy issues, and inform legislative and oversight actions. But a review of Senate-hearing witness-testimony data raises questions about lawmakers’ ability to anticipate national issues before they happen.

Quantifying Senate committees’ ability to forecast issues of national importance has been challenging in the past. But data science helps discern what senators are hearing about from witnesses. Given the way that the Senate and Government Publishing Office releases congressional hearing testimony and transcripts, identifying trends would usually require a researcher to read individual PDFs of witnesses’ submitted testimony for thousands of hearings. But a software program that I wrote downloads Senate witness testimonies from 2000 to 2022, making textual analysis possible. With a database of written testimonies, users can search the record of statements to see what witnesses told the committees. While some testimonies are unusable yet due to the files not being formatted properly, a sample of nearly fifteen thousand Senate witness testimonies across all Senate committees makes trends easy to spot.

Click here to read the full article from City Journal.


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