Home » Preparing Written Testimony 101

Preparing Written Testimony 101

House Appropriations Subcommittee Public Witness Hearings: How to Prepare and Submit Written Testimony (It’s easier than you think!)

What is a Public Witness Hearing?

Each year, the U.S. House of Representative’s Appropriations Committee holds “public witness” hearings to receive input on the allocation of funding across federal agencies and programs.

The House Appropriations Committee and its Senate counterpart consider annual funding  through 12 subcommittees (here’s a quick primer on the annual appropriations process), and each House subcommittee invites individuals representing themselves or organizations to: 1) apply to address the committee; or 2) submit written testimony.

Why should I provide testimony?

Testimony that is submitted or delivered becomes part of the committee record and is ultimately entered into the “Congressional Record,” which means it will be part of the permanent records of Congress that can be accessed online via congress.gov.

Providing testimony for an appropriations public witness hearing, whether you deliver it or submit it in written form, can be a meaningful contribution to the public and policymaker discourse on federal funding priorities.

Remember to coordinate with the government or corporate affairs office of your employer before submitting or sharing written testimony if there is any chance your testimony could be construed as representing the views of your employer.

How do I prepare testimony?

Whether you will be delivering or submitting written testimony, the same basic rules of the road apply. Follow these 10 steps and it will be easy (ish)!

Step 1: Check out the committee’s guidelines (format, deadlines, etc.). Here are the House guidelines and the Senate guidelines.

Tip: Before you submit your testimony, triple check that your testimony meets the committee’s length and formatting requirements. Testimony that falls outside these parameters may be excluded from the committee record.

Step 2: Write down the answers to these questions:

    • What exactly do I want the subcommittee to do? What is your “ask?”
    • What are three good reasons they should do that? (If you have one or two very good reason(s), that’s fine, too). Good reasons can take the form of facts, experiences, logic, or widely shared beliefs.  From survey data, to your personal journey finding an effective treatment, to data on the prevalence of a disease, all good reasons have one thing in common:  they resonate.

Step 3: Repeat Step 2 if you want the committee to do more than one thing.

Tip: Generally, the fewer “asks” you make, the more impactful your testimony will be.

Step 4:  Pat yourself on the back! Once you have articulated what you believe the subcommittee should do and three (or so) good reasons why, the rest of the process should fly by.

Step 5: Put together a simple outline.  Here’s how:

Thank you (Chair (Last name of Subcommittee Chair), Ranking Member (last name of the senior member from the minority party in Congress), and esteemed members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to address the subcommittee today.

    • Paste the answers you wrote down in Steps 3 and 4 into the doc.
    • Paste this paragraph into the doc:

Thank you again, (Chair (Last name of Subcommittee Chair), Ranking Member (last name of the senior membe  from the minority party in Congress), and members of the (Subcommittee) for enabling me to share my perspective with you, and thank you for your work, day in and day out, to advance the best interests of the people you represent. (Reiterate your ask here)

Step 6: Get creative! Treat the basic outline above like a piece of clay and shape it in a way that feels right to you. You can combine your ask with the fundamental reason you believe the subcommittee should listen, tell your story briefly, and then close (See Example 1); or you can lead with the ask and then support it (see Example 2); or take another approach.

Example 1:

Opening: As the mother of a child with a rare disease, I don’t just know, but live, the value of medical research. I hope a brief look at what my son and my family has been through will help convince you to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), because as it stands, only 25% of the promising research projects NIH considers can be funded. Twenty-five percent isn’t good enough. My son and other kids with rare diseases are waiting for answers. They can’t afford missed opportunities.

Your Story: (One to three short paragraphs that convey the challenges and why research has been, or can be, important to your son, and/or your family, and or other kids and families)

Closing sentence: I know from my own experience, from the experiences of my friends and loved ones, and from being part of a nation and world compromised by health threats that we can overcome, that increasing the NIH budget is both right, and smart.

Example 2:

Opening: Recognizing that the American people hold differing views on important facets of our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am asking the committee to equip the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to simultaneously lead our nation against this pandemic and bolster our defenses against the next one.

There are many reasons to bolster the CDC budget that transcend party, politics, and pandemic fatigue.

Reasons: One short paragraph for each reason

Closing Sentence:  Public health threats do not care whether our nation is prepared for them or not.  They will arise. As is true for every other threat to the national defense and public good, we can either be ready or sorry.  Please act in the best interests of our nation and world and equip CDC to be ready.

Steps 7 and 8:  Edit, edit, edit. Look for opportunities to be more concise. Check for punctuation and grammar errors. Have you used acronyms without spelling them out? Have you used the same word multiple times? Have you used sesquipedalian (i.e., big and annoying) words? Have you used jargon? (i.e., overused and annoying)

Refer back to the Committee’s guidelines. Here are the House guidelines and the Senate guidelines. Does your testimony meet them all?

Tip:  You know that friend who is always correcting your grammar? If you’re still speaking to them, ask if they’ll review your testimony.

Step 9:  If you are submitting testimony, refer back to the House or Senate instructions for submitting your testimony, and hit send. If you are delivering testimony, we’ll be in the audience, cheering you on!

Step 10:  There are no more steps. You did it!