By making laws that establish what administrative agencies are expected to do and appropriating the money to do it, legislative bodies have the ultimate power to hold administrators accountable. At all levels of government, legislators and legislative institutions call on agency administrators to account for their actions or failure to act. This is known as legislative oversight. Most often it is conducted on an ad hoc basis, less frequently as part of a well-defined systematic process.
While much of the discussion that follows relates to the mechanisms and methods used by Congress, many state and larger local governments operate in essentially the same way with a few significant exceptions. State and local legislative bodies have not yet gone as far as the national government in establishing professional support staffs for members as well as committees; this, together with the fact that state and local legislators serve part-time, has slowed the development of their accountability processes.
Current congressional oversight is based on major decisions taken in 1946, 1968, 1970, 1974, and 1993. As mentioned in Chapter 2, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 19461 requires all standing committees of Congress to exercise continuous watchfulness over agencies under their jurisdiction. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Act of 19682 called on legislative committees to review grants-in-aid programs without expiration dates to determine whether the programs are meeting their intended purposes, whether further federal assistance is needed to meet the objectives, and whether any changes should be made in the programs.
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 19703 requires the Congressional