Checking the Executive: The Importance of Congressional Oversight

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The Constitution does not explicitly grant Congress the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations of the Executive branch. However, oversight authority is inherent in many facets of the Legislature's duties and responsibilities. The Supreme Court confirmed this in McGrain v. Daugherty, 273 U.S. 135 (1927) stating:

A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change, and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information -- which not infrequently is true -- recourse must be had to others who do possess it. Experience has taught that mere requests for such information often are unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete, so some means of compulsion are essential to obtain what is needed. Id. at p.175.

From legislating and appropriating to confirmation, impeachment, and war, Congress’ ability to compel information and properly supervise federal activity and policy implementation is essential to its nature.

Throughout the history of our country, Congress has exercised oversight via numerous means such as committee hearings, direct Member contact, staff studies and casework, statutory commissions and inspector general reports. Through these methods and others, Congress endeavors to ensure faithful execution of Congressional intent, monitor the efficacy and efficiency of federal programs, protect legislative authority from Executive encroachment, investigate waste, fraud and abuse, assess agency management and financial priorities, and safeguard individual liberties.

In recent decades some have observed that the federal growth of agencies, programs, debt, political polarization, and divided government have greatly intensified the environment in which oversight occurs. They assert that oversight has become weaponized and too partisan. Others lament the use of federal time and energy for “show hearings” designed to embarrass individuals or score purely political points. This panel will explore the current oversight landscape, compare it with prior eras, and offer insight for how it may be improved.


Michael D. Bopp, Partner, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Machalagh Carr, Oversight Staff Director, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives

Hon. Neil Eggleston, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Moderator: Amanda Neely, General Counsel for Senator Rob Portman, and Deputy Chief Counsel, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations