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Hearings of the
Subcommittee on Rules & Organization of the House

Cooperation, Comity, and Confrontation: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch


DATE: July 15, 1999

TIME: 10:00 AM

ROOM: H-313 The Capitol



Panel I


  • Hon. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Chairman -- Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Education and the Workforce

  • Hon. Dan Burton (R-IN), Chairman -- Committee on Government Reform


  • Hon. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman -- Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Committee on Commerce


  • Hon. Don Young (R-AK), Chairman -- Committee on Resources


  • Hon. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Chairman -- Committee on the Judiciary

Panel II


  • Hon. Barney Frank (D-MA), Committee on the Judiciary

  • Hon. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), Committee on Government Reform.


The Purpose of the Hearing

The purpose of the hearing is to examine institutional issues relating to congressional oversight and a number of roadblocks encountered in the process. The subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over internal operations of the House, the continued examination of the jurisdictional issues of all House Committees, and institutional issues such as the implementation of the rules and prerogatives of the House, will hear from five distinguished chairmen who will offer their insights into the oversight process. They will explain some of the problems that their committees have encountered from the executive branch, and we will begin a dialogue about how to more effectively conduct oversight and protect institutional privileges and prerogatives. In particular, the Subcommittee expects to hear testimony regarding obstacles placed in the path of congressional investigators by the executive branch, especially the Department of Justice.

House committees are required to exercise ‘continuous watchfulness’ over programs and agencies within their jurisdiction, and oversight will be one of Congress’s principal assignments in the post-independent counsel era. Congress must be able to carry out effective oversight to deter waste and abuse, make certain that federal administrators faithfully execute laws, and ensure that executive policies reflect the public interest. Unfortunately, when Congress directs its oversight at the executive branch, these agencies frequently assert questionable privileges to shield information that Congress deems essential to carry out its oversight function.

Congress has a responsibility to improve the efficiency, economy, and effectiveness of governmental operations; evaluate programs and performance; detect and prevent poor administration, waste, or abuse in government programs; ensure that executive policies reflect the public interest; ensure administrative compliance with legislative intent; and prevent executive encroachment on legislative authority and prerogatives. These bipartisan goals may be accomplished through congressional oversight.

Congressional oversight is integral to the checks and balances inherent in our system of government in which one branch serves as a counterbalance to the excesses of the other. The duty of the legislature, John Stuart Mill wrote in Consideration of Representative Government, is “to watch and control the government; to throw the light of publicity on its acts; to compel a full exposition and justification of all of them which any one considers questionable; to censure them if found condemnable.”

The Subcommittee hearing offers an opportunity to review both the oversight function that serves as a vital tool for keeping the nation free and the inherent dangers of permitting agencies to impede the work of Congress.