Congressional Science Policy Initiative

How to Write a Congressional Hearing Question

An example of a well-crafted congressional hearing question, parsing its key elements.

This question was contributed to a July 2020 Senate hearing that evaluated Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to accelerate the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Key:

A title that clearly states what the question is about, in bold.

A value statement that indicates the desired outcome for a particular process.

A problem statement describing circumstances that could prevent the attainment of the desired outcome.

Supporting evidence for why the issue needs to be addressed during the hearing, which is educational for both policymakers and the public.

A question that will elicit an informative response from at least one of the witnesses.

Tip: Targeting the question to a specific witness is entirely appropriate.

Example question:

Vaccine safety: Antibody-dependent enhancement of infection

Safe and effective vaccines that protect against COVID-19 are sorely needed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of U.S. citizens. Some vaccines, such as a 2016 vaccine against dengue virus, intensify the consequences of infection, rather than protect. This is called antibody-dependent enhancement, or ADE.

In past efforts to develop vaccines against other coronaviruses, instances of ADE have been observed. Furthermore, “antibodies typical of ADE are present in the blood of some COVID-19 patients.”

Is Operation Warp Speed mapping out SARS-CoV-2 viral epitopes that could cause antibody-dependent enhancement of infection, and prioritizing vaccine designs with low-risk epitopes? Please explain.

Interested in contributing suggested questions to congressional hearings?

The Congressional Science Policy Initiative Team

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Michael A. Fisher, PhD

CSPI Director & FAS Senior Fellow

Former campaign Field Director

Synthetic biologist & protein engineer

@mykfish

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Lindsay Milliken

CSPI Teammate & FAS Policy Analyst

Former government relations staffer

Political science & physics

@LK_Milliken

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Tricia White

CSPI Teammate & FAS Intern

Former intern at the ICBM Information Project

International affairs & nonproliferation / terrorism

@triciawh1te

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Kathryn Kohn, MA

CSPI Teammate & FAS Comms Manager

Former campaign Comms Director

Political theory & communications

@kathrwn

Partners of the Congressional Science Policy Initiative

Contact the Congressional Science Policy Initiative at sciencepolicy@fas.org.