For decades, scholars (and the public) have said that Congress has abdicated its oversight role and that the federal bureaucracy had too much discretion and was largely undeterred because legislative monitoring was so weak. At the end of the 20th century, scholars argued that Congress did not abdicate its oversight role but instead preferred to conduct oversight by responding to whistleblowers, interest groups, constituents and others who came forward with allegations of bureaucratic waste, fraud, or abuse rather than spend the time and energy to actively police each agency all the time. This distinction – between Congress responding to fire-alarms by whistleblowers versus actively police patrolling the bureaucracy – has largely been adopted by legal and political scholars. 

For those interested in administrative law and congressional oversight of the bureaucracy, a basic question is how does the role of the Inspectors General – the internal audit officers for each federal agency – differ from the role of oversight committees and subcommittees as both appear to be tasked with exposing “waste, fraud and abuse” in the executive branch bureaucracy? Inspectors General are appointed by the President so they are not the typical “whistleblower” that pulls a fire alarm to get Congress’s attention.  

What my data shows is that Congress, in creating the Inspectors General, largely reduced its investigative and oversight workload. Indeed, as practitioners in the areas of government contracts and the False Claims Act, or lawyers for congressional committees, know, the IGs have substantial investigative power and are actively policing the bureaucracy with a staff and set of resources that greatly dwarf those available to committees in Congress. So has Congress delegated its oversight responsibilities to the IGs? Is this an abdication of its constitutional role or a more effective form of oversight?  Should Congress rein in the investigative powers of the IGs, particularly because they serve at the pleasure of the President, or do the IGs effectively report to Congress? Using basic empirical models, I examine the effects of the Inspector General Act of 1978 upon congressional oversight of the bureaucracy. The full post is here: