This paper examines the committee assignment process for Democratic members of the House of Representatives. Unlike previous studies of committee assignments, this paper employs data on the requests for assignments submitted by members to the Committee on Committees. The theoretical perspective employed is one in which all the participants in the process are rational actors who have goals they want to achieve and who choose among alternative courses of action on the basis of which alternative is most likely to lead to the achievement of those goals. We argue that the allocation of committee assignments affects the goals of all the participants in the process, and thus we consider the choices of actors in the process in terms of their goals; specifically the goals of re-election, influence within the House, and good public policy.
After first considering the process from the point of view of the member making requests, we show that the member's requests are related to the type of district he represents, and that the number of requests he makes is related to such considerations as whether he is a freshman, whether he faces competition from a member from his state, and whether there is a vacancy from his state on his most preferred committee.
The process is also considered from the point of view of the members making the assignments. Decisions on assignments are found to be affected by seniority (where success in getting requested committees is inversely related to seniority), margin of election (where members from marginal districts are more successful), and region (where southerners are less successful than members from other regions).