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Secretary of the Senate

From Academic Kids

The Secretary of the Senate, as an elected officer of the United States Senate, supervises an extensive array of offices and services to expedite the day-to-day operations of that body. The first secretary was chosen on April 8, 1789, two days after the Senate achieved its first quorum for business. From the start, the secretary was responsible for keeping the minutes and records of the Senate, including the records of senators' election, and for receiving and transmitting official messages to and from the president and the House of Representatives, as well as for purchasing supplies. As the Senate grew to become a major national institution, numerous other duties were assigned to the secretary, whose jurisdiction now encompasses clerks, curators, and computers; disbursement of payrolls; acquisition of stationery supplies; education of the Senate pages; and the maintenance of public records. Today, the secretary coordinates two of the largest technology initiatives in Senate history, both designed to bring state-of-the-art efficiency to management of legislative and financial information.

The secretary's responsibilities include both legislative and administrative functions.


Contents

Legislative functions

The secretary regularly accompanies the chaplain into the Senate chamber for the opening of the day's session, and a seat beside the presiding officer is reserved for the secretary. Every act passed by the Senate is examined and signed by the secretary. In certain parliamentary circumstances, the secretary may also preside over the Senate, the most recent occurrence being at the opening of the Eightieth Congress in 1947 when the office of vice president was vacant. On that occasion, Secretary of the Senate Leslie Biffle took the chair until the Senate could elect a president pro tempore.

The first secretary took the minutes of Senate proceedings, a function continued today by the journal clerk and executive clerk. After the Congressional Record evolved into an official publication, the secretary came to supervise the Senate's reporters of debates and preparation of the Daily Digest. Among other Senate floor staff who report to the secretary are the parliamentarian, bill clerk, legislative clerk, and enrolling clerk.


Administrative Functions

The first secretary purchased the quill pens, ink, and parchment needed by eighteenth-century senators. Modern secretaries of the Senate have responsibility for the Senate Stationery Room, a multimillion-dollar retail operation that keeps senators' offices supplied. From the beginning, the secretary served as the Senate's disbursing officer, paying senators their original salary of six dollars a day plus travel expenses. As the Senate grew, a separate financial clerk was appointed under the secretary's jurisdiction.

In recognition of the immediate and historical significance of Senate bills, resolutions, hearings, and reports, the secretary oversees the Office of Printing and Document Services, the Office of Senate Security (which maintains classified documents), the Senate Library, the Office of Senate Curator, and the Senate Historical Office. The secretary also maintains the Office of Interparliamentary Services to provide support for those interparliamentary conferences in which the Senate participates and to assist senators in international travel. Also under the secretary's direction, the Office of Public Records collects and makes publicly available documents relating to campaign finance, financial ethics, foreign travel, and lobbying.

In 1789 the secretary was authorized to hire "one principal clerk." This principal clerk, or chief clerk, for many years served primarily as a reading clerk on the Senate floor. But during the 1960s, in response to the secretary's growing administrative duties, the position evolved into that of assistant secretary of the Senate, who oversees the administration of the Secretary's Office, including computers and the secretary's web site. The assistant secretary also performs the functions of the secretary in his or her absence. During the 1960s, under the leadership of Francis Valeo, staff positions under the secretary of the Senate were redefined from patronage to professional status, a trend continued by Valeo's successors.

Some notable secretaries

A position of great trust and responsibility, the Senate secretaryship has been held by a long line of distinguished individuals. Samuel Allyne Otis, the first secretary of the Senate, had previously been speaker of the Massachusetts legislature and a member of the Continental Congress. Otis held the post of secretary for twenty-five years, never missing a day that the Senate was in session. General Anson McCook of New York, a former House member and one of the "fighting McCooks" of the Civil War, served as secretary, as have two former U.S. senators -- Charles Cutts of New Hampshire and Walter Lowrie of Pennsylvania. Other former House members who have held the post are William Cox (NC) and Charles Bennett (NY). During the Ninety-ninth Congress (1985-1987), Jo-Anne Coe became the first woman to serve as secretary.

It has not been unusual for secretaries of the Senate to have devoted their entire careers to the Senate. Several began as pages, including Edwin Halsey, who served throughout the dramatic New Deal years; Leslie Biffle, a close confidant of President Harry Truman; Carl Loeffler and J. Mark Trice, secretaries during the Eightieth and Eighty-third congresses; and Walter J. Stewart, secretary from 1987 to 1994.

Reference

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