Date of Award


Document Type



Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Daniel Palazzolo


Political scientists have developed several theories to explain how the United States Congress organizes its committees. According to the informational theory, members of Congress view committees as the most efficient way to divide the labor associated with processing a broad range of bills. Since it would be impossible for each individual member to have expertise in every policy area, information-gathering responsibility is distributed among the different Members through the committee system. Committees provide information about policy outcomes and produce legislation preferred by a majority of Members. According to the partisan model, on the other hand, committees are organized primarily to support the political agenda of the majority party. My study tests the extent to which these two theories explain committee organization in the Virginia General Assembly. I put forth and test several hypotheses based on the predictions of these two theories, using data on the occupational backgrounds, party affiliation, and ideological preferences of General Assembly members. I find that both informational and partisan theory apply in the General Assembly. Differences in organization between committees can be explained by chamber rules, policy types, and the size of the party majority. A House rule requiring proportional representation on committees has resulted in a more informational model for the House. In the Senate, which has no such rule, committees conform more to the expectations of the partisan theory. Committees that control important issues like business and government spending tend to be organized more along the lines of the partisan model, whereas committees with specialized jurisdictions in areas like agriculture and transportation follow a more informational model. Committees that control important but specialized issues like the legal system show a mix of partisan and informational characteristics.