Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

With millions of individuals employed in the executive branch of the federal government, Congress faces an oversight challenge — how to effectively monitor those who are charged with implementing the law. Congressional committees are the primary venue for oversight and they hold hearings at which bureaucrats are questioned and asked to provide information, conduct investigations, and hold much of the responsibility for authorizing the activities and budgets of federal agencies. The figure below presents the number of hearings held in the House and Senate on issues related to government efficiency and bureaucratic oversight from 1946 to 2008.

Hearings in the House and Senate

1. What is the high point in congressional hearings (how many and in which chamber and year)?
2. What is the low point in congressional hearings (again, indicate the number, chamber, and year)?
Which of the two chambers tends to conduct more hearings? Why might this be the case?
As this chapter’s Analyzing the Evidence section describes, there are two ways to think about oversight: police patrols, in which Congress is actively monitoring the executive branch, and fire alarms, in which Congress relies on those affected by federal agencies to alert legislators to problems.
4. Based on the figure above, which type of oversight appears to be the norm in Congress? Be sure to describe why you think the evidence supports your answer.
The discussion in your textbook noted variation in the number of hearings on government efficiency and bureaucratic oversight according to significant events like Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. Political scientists have explored the relationship between politics and oversight more broadly. The table below describes annual averages in congressional activity on highly visible investigations of the executive branch under unified and divided government from 1947 to 2006.i

  Unified Government Divided Government Percentage Difference
Number of investigations 0.30 0.33 +12%
Days of hearings 12.24 19.78 +63%
New York Times articles 12.28 19.92 +62%
5. Is there a relationship between partisanship and congressional oversight of the executive branch when it comes to high-profile investigations? If so, what is it?
6. What do you think the number of days spent in hearings and the number of New York Times articles covering these high-profile investigations tell us about oversight? (This question is asking you to think about the nature of the data and what is being measured.)

i Kriner, Douglas, and Liam Schwartz, 2008, “Divided Government and Congressional Investigations,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 33: 295–321. 

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