November 04, 2021

Modernization Committee Holds Hearing on Strengthening Congressional Oversight Capacity to Promote Transparency, Improve Policy

The hearing examined how Congress can better hold the executive branch accountable and ensure federal programs effectively use taxpayer dollars to serve the needs of the American people

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Modernization Committee”) held a hearing on strengthening congressional oversight capacity.


Expert witnesses from the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School, Georgetown University Law School, and Protect Democracy shared with the Modernization Committee that while effective congressional oversight can make government more efficient and save taxpayer money, it has become increasingly difficult. They noted a key issue was Democratic and Republican administrations becoming less willing to openly share information.


Members of the Modernization Committee and the hearing witnesses discussed current obstacles that Congress faces when it tries to request necessary information, and how the current enforcement tools available to Congress are lacking.


Specifically, the witnesses made recommendations for Congress to create new ways to enforce its subpoenas, to create a path for requiring expedited judicial consideration of congressional enforcement lawsuits, and to make more readily available to committees the types of legal software used to conduct discovery. Additionally, the witnesses called for the creation of a Congressional Office of Legal Counsel to advocate for Congress in disputes with the executive branch. The Modernization Committee made a recommendation in the last Congress to study the feasibility of an Office of Legal Counsel.

“As a co-equal branch of government, Congress shouldn’t just take the word of any administration that everything is just peachy,” said Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “It’s our job as members of Congress to both allocate funding and to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used properly. Effective oversight is a goal shared by both parties and by the American people.  The Modernization Committee is looking for ways to help make Congress stronger at ensuring the federal government is accountable to the folks we represent.”

“In order for members of Congress to serve as an effective check on the other branches of government and ensure we are serving the needs of the American people, we must have a firm understanding of what is going on across the federal government,” said Vice Chair William Timmons (R-SC). “The experts at today’s hearing shared with the Committee some great ideas that we hope to turn into recommendations to help strengthen Congress’ ability to keep government efficient, transparent, and accountable."


The witnesses the members heard from were Elise Bean, J.D., the Washington Director of the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School, Josh Chafetz, J.D./Ph.D., a professor at Georgetown University Law School, and Anne Tinall, J.D., Counsel at Protect Democracy.


You can watch the full hearing HERE.