Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional Oversight

Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional Oversight

Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional Oversight

Keeping a Watchful Eye: The Politics of Congressional Oversight

Synopsis

Congressional oversight activity has increased dramatically since the early 1970s. Congressional committees now spend more of their time holding hearings to review the activities of federal agencies, and committee staff members are busy collecting information about what goes on during program implementation. This book examines the reasons behind the surprising growth of congressional oversight. Using original data collected for this project, Joel D. Aberbach documents the increase in oversight activity and links it to changes in the political environment. He explores the political purposes served by oversight, the techniques Congress uses to uncover information about the activities of the federal bureaucracy, and the reasons why topics get on the oversight agenda. He concludes that even though the U. S. government system was not designed with a large administrative sector in mind, its ability to expose bureaucratic behavior to public scrutiny is impressive, and the Congress plays a vital role in this endeavor.

Excerpt

Congressional oversight activity has increased dramatically since the early 1970s. Congressional committees now spend more of their time holding hearings to review the activities of federal agencies, and committee staff members are busy collecting information about what goes on during program implementation.

This book examines the reasons behind the surprising growth of congressional oversight. Using original data collected for this project, Joel D. Aberbach documents the increase in oversight activity and links it to changes in the political environment. He explores the political purposes served by oversight, the techniques Congress uses to uncover information about the activities of the federal bureaucracy, and the reasons why topics get on the oversight agenda. He concludes that even though the U.S. government system was not designed with a large administrative sector in mind, its ability to expose bureaucratic behavior to public scrutiny is impressive, and that Congress plays a vital role in this endeavor.

Joel D. Aberbach, a former senior fellow in the Brookings Governmental Studies program, is professor of political science and director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. He gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the representatives, senators, and congressional staff members who agreed to be interviewed for this project. They gave generously of their time and knowledge. Assurances of anonymity prevent thanking them by name.

The author thanks the many colleagues who commented on the manuscript at various stages. Thomas E. Mann, Daniel B. Mezger, Morris S. Ogul, Paul J. Quirk, and Bert A. Rockman provided detailed suggestions on the entire manuscript. Martha Feldman, John E. Jackson . . .

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