Congress: Oversight

Congress: Oversight

Congressional Oversight

  • Congressional oversight refers to Congress’s authority to monitor and, if necessary, influence the activities of the executive branch.
  • This oversight function is a critical aspect of the checks and balances system embedded within the US Constitution.

Working Mechanism of Congressional Oversight

  • Oversight often occurs through congressional committees. These bodies conduct investigations, organise hearings, and issue subpoenas to ensure regulatory laws are being implemented correctly.
  • Appropriations committees enhance their control by deciding the budgetary allocations for each executive department.

GAO and Congressional Oversight

  • The Congress also assigns oversight functions to formal agencies such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
  • The GAO operates as a legislative branch agency, reviewing government spending and auditing federal programs.

Impeachment and Oversight

  • Perhaps the most significant oversight power of Congress is the power to impeach a president.
  • Impeachment is a grave step that involves investigating a president for possible misdeeds and holding trial in the Senate.

The Constitution and Oversight

  • The Constitution does not explicitly provide Congress with the power for oversight. Instead, it’s derived from the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of Article 1 Section 8 of the constitution.
  • The legitimacy of this power has been upheld by Supreme Court in several landmark cases such as McGrain v. Daugherty.

Oversight vs. Executive Branch

  • The executive branch often clashes with Congress over scope of oversight. This can result in executive privilege claims, where the president or executive officials may refuse to provide information to Congress.
  • Court rulings often play a role in resolving such disputes, balancing congressional authority with the need to protect executive confidentiality.

Importance of Congressional Oversight

  • Oversight powers are crucial in maintaining accountability, deterring corruption, preserving the Rule of Law, and ensuring the government is responsive to citizen’s needs.
  • Oversight also serves an informative function, providing Congress and the public with valuable information about the operations of the government and efficacy of public policies.