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.

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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.

gao titles re-written

Recent GAO report titles with my interpretation of what they could have called the reports.

HHS: Patient’s Health Information Remains Unprotected

HHS Has Issued Health Privacy and Security Regulations but Needs to Improve Guidance and Oversight, GAO-12-605, Jun 22, 2012

It Takes Less Time to Get A Security Clearance Now

Personnel Security Clearances: Continuing Leadership and Attention Can Enhance Momentum Gained from Reform Effort, GAO-12-815T, Jun 21, 2012


a history of contempt

Yesterday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to recommend Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt of Congress. The “Fast and Furious” scandal represents a sorry episode – and, to this observer at least, suggests symptoms of  long-term deficiencies of leadership and oversight. But yesterday was pure oversight theater. Almost six hours of hearings filled with angry recriminations between committee Democrats and Republicans cement Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa’s legacy in the annals of congressional contempt.  The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe observes:

Issa may want to be remembered as a serious, nonpartisan leader of government reform efforts, but Wednesday’s contempt vote — and the possibility of a full House vote on the matter next week — likely will cement his status as a partisan antagonist in the eyes of Democrats and a hero to conservative Republicans — whether he likes it or not.

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