Cliff Notes on Congressional Oversight


POGO-handbook-imagePOGO, the Project On Government Oversight, recently released a guidebook for congressional staffers on how to effectively build an investigation.  The neatly designed guide, entitled, “The Art of Congressional Oversight: A User’s Guide to Doing It Right,” is a helpful resource for Hill staffers to summarize their rights, responsibilities and powers.  POGO creates relevant cliff notes to a complex issue and pairs illustrative historical examples with important principles of government oversight.

Much of the information contained in its eighty spiral-bound pages echoes the efforts of the Sunlight Foundation to inform citizens of tools at their disposal and their rights to put government under the magnifying glass.  At Sunlight, trudging through government data is what we live for, but we also strive to build tools that sift through the rubble, a number that are mentioned in the guidebook.  Some of the resources mentioned in the guidebook that the Sunlight Foundation has given grants to include,, the Taxpayers for Common Sense and of course, POGO. The guidebook reminds readers that like transparency, “congressional oversight should not be a partisan issue” and significant diligence is required to shine the proper sunlight on questionable activities.  Tips include everything from how to gather data relevant in the investigation to dealing with obstreperous witnesses during hearings.  Almost every page is infused with a relevant (and often humorous) quote or story from experienced oversight staffers, easily transferring tomes of knowledge to the next generation of government investigators.  The vital (constitutionally-mandated) oversight role of Congress infuses the booklet with a tone of support for those staffers who are hampered by prickly speed bumps and utilizing POGO’s tips will lead investigators down the path to an airtight case.

Elise Bean, Democratic Staff Director and Chief Counsel, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, offered this piece of advice on building a case:

[The Majority and Minority on our Committee] work together.  One side or the other takes the lead.  If we’re taking the lead, there’s at least one person on the other staff who’s assigned to our investigation.  They attend all the meetings.  They’re welcome to do as much document review as they can manage…Our counterparts are always fully informed and we find that circumvents a lot of problems.  Some people we investigate try to go to the other party and cause trouble, but if we’re working together, that doesn’t happen.

POGO’s manual builds on the “Congressional Oversight Training Series,” their free monthly seminars for Hill staffers, and hopes to create a comprehensive resource that is available for reference when the going gets tough and some guidance is invaluable. The handbook is a clear and succinct breakdown of principles and resources for any investigation.  This guide helps inform staffers of their rights and points them to tools relevant to keeping Congress honest.  POGO sent a copy of the guide to anyone who attended one of the training seminars, every lawmaker and is also available to the public for purchase.  We hope they put it to good use.