In blunt colloquial terms, we have too few watch dogs and too many lap dogs in the U.S. House of Representatives. Enlarging the size of the U.S. House of Representatives would bring much needed talent to bear on the task of curbing Executive and bureaucratic hubris, secrecy, abuse and incompetence. We need more people in the U.S. House to get more brains and more guts confronting excessive Executive power.
What is "congressional oversight?" Simply put, it's members of Congress monitoring Executive Branch activities. The dictionary definition of "oversight" is "watchful care; superintendence; general supervision."
Congress regards oversight as "the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations of the executive, to have access to records or materials held by the executive, or to issue subpoenas for documents or testimony from the executive."
For Members of Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, to exercise their oversight responsibility they must have a clear understanding of their authority to do so. In addition, Members must have sufficient time, staff resources and independence from obstructive leadership to investigate. It is seldom considered that there must be enough Members with a diversity of talents to undertake the tasks.
Furthermore, rigorous Congressional oversight with more Members would have the added benefit of lessening the citizen's last resort to the courts for relief, if any relief is to had at all.
The Constitution grants Congress extensive authority to oversee and investigate executive branch activities. The constitutional authority for Congress to conduct oversight stems from such explicit and implicit provisions as:
1. The power of the purse. The Constitution provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Each year the Committee on Appropriations of the House reviews the financial practices and needs of federal agencies. The appropriations process allows the Congress to exercise extensive control over the activities of executive agencies. Congress can define the precise purposes for which money may be spent, adjust funding levels, and prohibit expenditures for certain purposes.
2. The power to organize the executive branch. Congress has the authority to create, abolish, reorganize, and fund federal departments and agencies. It has the authority to assign or reassign functions to departments and agencies, and grant new forms of authority and staff to administrators. Congress, in short, exercises ultimate authority over executive branch organization and generally over policy.
3. The power to make all laws for “carrying into Execution” Congress’s own enumerated powers as well as those of the executive. Article I grants Congress a wide range of powers, such as the power to tax and coin money; regulate foreign and interstate commerce; declare war; provide for the creation and maintenance of armed forces; and establish post offices.
Augmenting these specific powers is the so-called “Elastic Clause,” which gives Congress the authority “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” Clearly, these provisions grant broad authority to regulate and oversee departmental activities established by law.
4. The power to confirm officers of the United States. The confirmation process not only involves the determination of a nominee’s suitability for an executive (or judicial) position, but also provides an opportunity to examine the current policies and programs of an agency along with those policies and programs that the nominee intends to pursue.
5. The power of investigation and inquiry. A traditional method of exercising the oversight function, an implied power, is through investigations and inquiries into executive branch operations. Legislators often seek to know how effectively and efficiently programs are working, how well agency officials are responding to legislative directives, and how the public perceives the programs. The investigatory method helps to ensure a more responsible, less costly bureaucracy, while supplying Congress with information needed to formulate new legislation and repeal inevitable mistakes.
6. Impeachment and removal. Impeachment provides Congress with a powerful, ultimate oversight tool to investigate alleged executive and judicial misbehavior, and to eliminate such misbehavior through the convictions and removal from office of the offending individuals. A rigorous exercise of Congressional oversight should make it far less necessary for Congress to resort to impeachments as the last resort. In fact, every impeachment is indicative of some prior failure of Congressional oversight.
To be continued...