big sky, big money

A genuine “big sky” shout-out to grad school friends Dave Parker and Erika Franklin Fowler, both PROMINENTLY featured in this week’s fascinating PBS Frontline “Big Sky, Big Money” examining “dark money” in Montana politics and in campaigns around the country in the wake of Citizens United (2010). Parker, a coauthor on research looking at congressional investigations, is a dedicated student of American politics. He’s driven countless hundreds of miles this year collecting information on campaign advertisements from local television stations, filling a vital gap in available information about what’s going on in American politics. And he is rewarded with a spot on PBS Frontline,  the coolest show on TV’s nerdiest channel. Not bad!


oversight: overlooked or unhinged?

For the past thirty years, students of American government have leaned hard on a metaphor contrasting “police patrol” and “fire alarm” oversight. It’s an interesting and useful idea, but basically unsupported by careful empirical work. My esteemed colleague David C.W. Parker (who blogs about Montana politics here) and I have looked at the partisan dimensions of congressional oversight in a couple academic articles – a 2009 article here published in Legislative Studies Quarterly and a forthcoming article in Political Research Quarterly. This summer we published a short essay, “Oversight: Overlooked or Unhinged?” in Extension of Remarks, the newsletter of the Legislative Studies Section of the American Political Science Association. It’s basically an effort to work through the critique of the “fire alarm” metaphor with an eye on current events. Did you miss it? Here it is again.

visualizing the impact of S679

As we at Bureauphile were shocked to learn earlier in the week, S. 679 successfully passed a House vote on July 31, 2012. We have done some very preliminary analysis of the impact of S. 679, which we presented at the “Appointee Politics and the Implications for Government Effectiveness” Workshop in Alexandria, VA on May 4th to some of the Senate committee staff responsible for writing the bill.

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holy cow!

Yesterday, the House passed S.679, a bill that reforms the presidential appointments process and reduces the number of presidential appointments subject to Senate confirmation. Everything I know about Congress is wrong!

S.679 was a topic of interest, but a keen sense of skepticism among participants in May’s Appointees Workshop, an event sponsored by the Virginia Tech Center for Public Administration and Policy  and the Indiana University School and Public and Environmental Affairs. I doubt any of the experts gathered to examine the role of appointees in American government would have predicted the bill’s passage this year. We will review elements of the new law in coming weeks, but for now a simple question: What happened to gridlock?

infographic: the doing-a-lot-of-nothing congress

Businessweek continues to elegantly distill information into easy-to-read infographics. (Click here to see the original.)

Now is not the time to go into this, but there was a time, not that long ago, when Congress did their work. They passed the budget on time. The worked on important laws, not changing the names of Post Offices. More on this in another post. For now, just note what your Congress has completed recently.

open crs!

For close observers of American government, Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are indispensable, but by longstanding policy CRS does not release its reports to the public. CRS’s client is Congress, the reasoning goes, and in order to offer independent and unbiased advice CRS speaks (more or less) only to Congress, a position it claims is rooted in the Constitution’s speech or debate clause. This argument might hold water if other Congressional agencies like GAO, which are also presumably hamstrung by this same clause, did not publicly release their reports. Continue reading