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Testifying on the Hill: A Guide to Survival

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With recent wars, both cold and hot, safely disposed, there remains for the military officer only one great fear that of being called to testify before a congressional committee. Though officers are always seeking an opportunity to excel, few of them relish the chance to travel to Capitol Hill and present themselves before the members and staff of Congress. Id rather have a root canal without anesthesia, is the way one combat-decorated colonel expressed it to me one day. I expect this feeling is well-nigh universal among career members of the military, and there are good reasons for such trepidation. First of all, a hearing is not an equal contest. The congressional committee holds all the cards. Its members set the agenda, schedule the time, and tell you what they want you to talk about. They control the hearing room, and they invariably put you on a lower level physically, so that they can look down upon you from on high. If they are hostile in their questioning and you win the hearing on points by showing up one of the members or staff and making him look foolish, they have the last laugh when they cut your budget or punish you with report language that strips you of power and position. Second, the committee will probably spend longer preparing for the hearing than you will, and they may know more about the subject of the hearing than you do. Just as you have staff-or perhaps you are the staff officer preparing your superior for the hearing-congressional committees also have professional staff members, some 2000 of them at the end of 1991. Many of these individuals are young, bright, and aggressive, while others are older and have as much experience as you do-perhaps more. Third, though the committee staffers will probably do their best to tell you what they think the committee will want to know about, you can almost count on some member to ask a question that is totally off the subject.

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  • Government and Political Science

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