Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is currently chaired by Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), with Carl Levin (D-MI) as a ranking member. Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Thomas R. Carper (D-Delaware), Lincoln D. Chafee (R-Rhode Island), Mark Dayton (D-Minnesota), Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), Pete V. Domenici (R-New Mexico), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), and John W. Warner (R-Virginia) also serve on the subcommittee.
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is the oldest subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, having been created at the same time as the Committee on Government Operations in 1952.
According to Ruth Young Watt, chief clerk of the subcommittee for more than 30 years, the subcommittee calls itself "permanent" but it really is not; nor is it independent of the full Government Operations (now Governmental Affairs) Committee. The PSI has, however, been a useful and powerful tool for several of the chairmen of the committee because it has a broad mandate to investigate inefficiency, mismanagement, and corruption in government.
The PSI is sometimes thought of as the successor to the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, 1941-1948, also known as the "Truman Committee". The Truman Committee under then Senator Harry S. Truman established a process and precedent whereby investigators could obtain copies of an individual or other entities tax return. When the Truman Committee was terminated in 1948, the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments continued that committee's investigation of war contracts and procurement of the F-11, the so-called "flying boat". The subcommittee also assumed responsibility for the records of the Truman Committee.
Under the chairmanship of Homer S. Ferguson of Michigan (1948) and Clyde R. Hoey of North Carolina (1949-1952), the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments held hearings on such matters as export control violations, for which Soviet spy William Remington was called in to testify; the trial of Nazi war criminal Ilse Koch; and the Mississippi Democratic Party's sale of postal jobs, which Mississippians from rural areas attested to purchasing. A much larger scandal erupted with the "5 percenters," so-called because these men, including Presidential aide Gen. Harry Vaughan, were accused of charging a 5-percent commission for their influence in securing government contracts. A legislative reform as a result of the hearings was a restriction of one year after leaving government employment before an attorney could practice law again before the government.
In the 83rd Congress, under its new chairman, Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, the subcommittee (now known as the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations) greatly increased the number of investigations and number of witnesses called. His subcommittee held 169 hearings throughout 1953 and 1954. Of the 653 persons called by the Committee during a 15 month period, 83 refused to answer questions about espionage and subversive activities on constitutional grounds and their names were made public. Nine additional witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment in executive session, and their names were not made public. Some of the 83 were working or had worked for the Army, the Navy, the Government Printing Office, the Treasury Department, the Office of War Information, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Veterans Administration. Others were or had been employed at the Federal Telecommunications Laboratories in New Jersey, the secret radar laboratories of the Army Signal Corps in New Jersey, and General Electric defense plants in Massachusetts and New York. Nineteen of the 83, including well known communist party members James S. Allen, Herbert Aptheker, and Earl Browder, were summoned because their writings were being carried in U.S. Information Service libraries around the world.
In April 1954, McCarthy`s exchange of charges with Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens led to the appointment of a special subcommittee of the PSI to investigate the charges. Chaired by Karl Mundt of South Dakota, the proceedings became known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings.
From 1955 until 1972, John L. McClellan of Arkansas chaired the PSI. McClellan continued extensive hearings of the Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and added new inquiries relating to communist activities in the United States and to business activities and alleged improper activities by Eisenhower Administration appointees and political associates. In the 86th Congress (1957), members of the Subcommittee were joined by Members of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee on a special committee to investigate labor racketeering. Chaired by Senator McClellan and staffed by Robert F. Kennedy, the Subcommittee’s Chief Counsel, and other staff members, this special committee directed much of its attention to criminal influence over the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, most famously calling Teamsters’ leaders Dave Beck and Jimmy Hoffa to testify. The televised hearings of the special committee also introduced Senators Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy to the nation, as well as leading to passage of the Landrum-Griffin Labor Act. After each day’s hearings, moreover, Robert Kennedy and other staff members, including Pierre Salinger and Kenneth O’Donnell, would meet in the committee’s back room to plan strategies for Senator John Kennedy’s upcoming 1960 presidential campaign.
After the select committee expired in 1960, the PSI continued to investigate labor racketeering and other labor-related matters. From 1961 through 1968, it also investigated gambling and organized crime in which Joe Valachi testified about the activities of the "Cosa Nostra", the Billie Sol Estes case, irregularities in missile procurement, procurement of the TFX fighter plane, excessive risks in underwriting Federal Housing Administration mortgages, riots, and civil disorders, the Agency for International Development commodity import program, and procurement of railway bridges for South Vietnam under the counterinsurgency program. The Subcommittee’s investigations also led to passage of major legislation against organized crime, most notably the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) provision of the Crime Control Act of 1970.
In 1973, Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Democrat from Washington, replaced McClellan as the Subcommittee’s chairman and Senator Charles Percy, an Illinois Republican, became the Ranking Minority Member. During Senator Jackson’s chairmanship, the Subcommittee conducted landmark hearings into energy shortages and the operation of the oil industry.
The regular reversals of political fortunes in the Senate of the 1980s and 1990s saw Senator Sam Nunn trade chairmanship three times with Delaware Republican William Roth. Nunn served from 1979 to 1980 and again from 1987 to 1995, while Roth served from 1981 to 1986, and again from 1995 to 1996. Senator Roth led a wide range of investigations into commodity investment fraud, off-shore banking schemes, money laundering, and child pornography. Senator Nunn inquired into federal drug policy, the global spread of chemical and biological weapons, abuses in federal student aid programs, computer security, airline safety, and health care fraud.
In January 1997 Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, became the first woman to chair the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator John Glenn of Ohio became Ranking Member. Upon Senator Glenn’s retirement from the Senate, Senator Carl Levin became Ranking Member in 1999. In June 2001, when the Democrats resumed control of the Senate, Senator Levin assumed the chairmanship of the Subcommittee until January 2003 when Senator Norm Coleman assumed the Chairmanship.
- Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
- Oral Interview with Ruth Young Watt
- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations vol. 1, Eighty-third Congress, First Session (1953) [PDF 950 pages]
- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations vol. 2, Eighty-third Congress, First Session (1953) [PDF 900 pages]
- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations vol. 3, Eighty-third Congress, First Session (1953)] [PDF 927 pages]
- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations vol. 4, Eighty-third Congress, First Session (1953)] [PDF 920 pages]
- Executive Sessions of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations vol. 5, Eighty-third Congress, First Session (1953)] [PDF 619 pages]