COVID-19 forces Senate defense committee to move to 'paper hearings'

By Tony Bertuca / March 25, 2020 at 3:06 PM

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Senate Armed Service Committee will not be holding traditional public hearings to inform its crafting of the fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill, according to a committee notice.

Prior to the outbreak, the committee would generally post on its website prepared testimony on the day of a hearing and then hold an in-person hearing, including the delivery of opening statements and questioning.

The panel will now shift to "paper hearings" that will involve the public posting of all witness testimony as well as the statements of the chairman and ranking member.

"The committee will collect questions from all SASC members related to the hearing topic, to be transmitted to the Department of Defense at the date and time of the scheduled hearing," the committee said.

The panel intends to post lawmakers' questions within one week of posting opening statements, "though the committee may exercise discretion and flexibility to ensure the Department of Defense is able to fulfill mission-critical duties, especially those related to COVID-19 response and national security."

The first paper hearing will take place Thursday on the Army's FY-21 budget posture.

Statements from witnesses and the committee leaders will be posted on the committee website the day of the paper hearing, while member questions and witness answers will be posted within one week.

"When conditions allow for a return to traditional hearings, SASC will transition back to that preferred mode," the committee said. "In addition, the committee is exploring other ways to continue these critical oversight functions."

The House Armed Services Committee has yet to announce its hearing format amid COVID-19, but lawmakers are expected to take a similar path.

The House is slated to mark up committee legislation April 30, while the Senate hopes to finish committee work by the end of May.