Congressional oversight of the US Administration: Tools and agencies

31-10-2016

The committees and individual members of the US Congress conduct oversight of the executive (Administration), in order, inter alia, to pursue legislative objectives, support efficiency in government and/or expose failures or achievements of an Administration. Congress uses formal and informal instruments to oversee the executive. When informal instruments such as talks with executive employees or letters written by Representatives and Senators do not lead to results, Congress can use official oversight techniques such as investigations and hearings. The US Administration is overseen internally and externally. Each government department and most agencies have an internal review function, an Office of the Inspector General. For external oversight, Congress has several non-partisan agencies at its disposal, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) is the instrument for ex-ante assessment of the major potential effects of regulation. Government departments and agencies carry these out themselves, in part under scrutiny of a branch of the White House, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Ex-post analysis is done through retrospective review, which takes a variety of formats. If Congress deems a rule (regulation) dissatisfactory, it can repeal it, change the underlying legislation or use its power of the purse to withhold funding. The European Parliament's involvement in ex-ante analysis is stronger than that of Congress, as it considers European Commission impact assessments at the same time as proposed legislation. Ex-post, the European Court of Auditors is roughly equivalent to the GAO, but independent of Parliament. The EP also conducts its own implementation appraisals of EU legislation in force. See also the parallel analysis 'Oversight of the US executive' for further discussion of the topic and, in particular, comparison with the EU system.

The committees and individual members of the US Congress conduct oversight of the executive (Administration), in order, inter alia, to pursue legislative objectives, support efficiency in government and/or expose failures or achievements of an Administration. Congress uses formal and informal instruments to oversee the executive. When informal instruments such as talks with executive employees or letters written by Representatives and Senators do not lead to results, Congress can use official oversight techniques such as investigations and hearings. The US Administration is overseen internally and externally. Each government department and most agencies have an internal review function, an Office of the Inspector General. For external oversight, Congress has several non-partisan agencies at its disposal, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) is the instrument for ex-ante assessment of the major potential effects of regulation. Government departments and agencies carry these out themselves, in part under scrutiny of a branch of the White House, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Ex-post analysis is done through retrospective review, which takes a variety of formats. If Congress deems a rule (regulation) dissatisfactory, it can repeal it, change the underlying legislation or use its power of the purse to withhold funding. The European Parliament's involvement in ex-ante analysis is stronger than that of Congress, as it considers European Commission impact assessments at the same time as proposed legislation. Ex-post, the European Court of Auditors is roughly equivalent to the GAO, but independent of Parliament. The EP also conducts its own implementation appraisals of EU legislation in force. See also the parallel analysis 'Oversight of the US executive' for further discussion of the topic and, in particular, comparison with the EU system.