Congressional Oversight in Theory and in Practice

01.23.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The rudiments of Congressional oversight — its legal basis, its functions, and the diverse forms it takes — are concisely described in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Congressional oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation…. Congress’s oversight authority derives from its ‘implied’ powers in the Constitution, public laws, and House and Senate rules. It is an integral part of the American system of checks and balances.”

See “Congressional Oversight,” updated January 3, 2006.

Integral though it may be, there is a widespread perception that congressional oversight has atrophied in recent years.

“Everyone recognizes that the failure of congressional oversight was one of the reasons why we have some of the problems in the intelligence community today,” said Sen. John McCain on NBC Meet the Press on November 21, 2004.

“We really don’t have, still don’t have, meaningful congressional oversight,” McCain said.

Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman released two reports that compare Congress’ relentless probing of the Clinton Administration with the anemic oversight of the present Administration.

“On issue after issue, the Congress has failed to conduct meaningful investigations of significant allegations of wrongdoing by the Bush Administration,” Rep Waxman wrote. “This approach stands in stark contrast to the breadth and intrusiveness of congressional investigations of the Clinton Administration.”

See “Congress’ Abdication of Oversight,” January 17, 2006.