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Will it be business as usual or will meaningful and long-lasting changes be made in the operation of our government?
Congress seems to be on everyone's "hit list" these days. Public perception appears to be that the Congress is making one misstep after another and that something fundamentally is wrong with the way it oversees not only the federal government but also itself.
In spite of the current broad authority to conduct congressional oversight and the substantial increases in resources and time devoted to it, painful, costly, and sometimes tragic mismanagement of the government goes undetected and/or unremedied until it reaches crisis proportions. Departmental officials condone or participate in abuse of government programs. Weapons systems are overpriced and do not work as advertised. Banking and Savings and Loan scandals cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Airline safety is seriously compromised. It goes on and on.
Although the Congress must take its share of responsibility for the failures of government, there are individuals in the bureaucracy (from the president on down) who, by their action or inaction as bureaucrats, have contributed significantly to these failures and who therefore must share responsibility for them. As a result of this combined effort, conventional wisdom is that to be elected to national office you need only to run against Washington - the Congress, as well as executive branch...
What Is Oversight?
Although the popular understanding of oversight is "an inadvertent omission or error," in the context of government, oversight means "watchful and responsible care." In the case of the legislative branch, oversight is the responsibility of both houses of Congress to review, investigate, and evaluate, on a continuing basis, how well the laws, programs, policies, and activities of government are carried out and to determine whether or what changes are needed.
Congressional oversight varies widely from formalized proceedings such as hearings on authorizations and appropriations, agency briefings, confirmations, the budget process, the investigatory process, and impeachments to informal review. The latter is carried out by members of Congress and congressional staff through examining reports, conducting field visits, interviewing whistle blowers, sending letters to the executive branch, conducting personal office casework, meeting with agency personnel, and acting on information from documents from executive branch personnel or others outside of Congress while has been dropped "over the transom."
Targets of oversight can range from waste, abuse of authority, and mismanagement to outright violations of criminal law. When investigations uncover criminal activity, they are usually developed to a point at which they may be referred to the Department of …