Oversight / Oversight Committee (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Oversight / Oversight Committee

A Star-Formation Laboratory, by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

A Star-Formation Laboratory, by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Oversight: Committee review of the activities of a federal agency or program.

Oversight Committee: A congressional committee, or designated subcommittee of a committee, charged with general oversight of one or more federal agencies activities. Usually, the oversight panel for a particular agency also is the authorizing committee for that agency’s programs and operations.

A fundamental objective of congressional oversight is to hold executive branch officials accountable for the implementation of delegated authority. This objective is especially important given the huge expansion of executive influence in the modern era. If the Founding Fathers returned to observe their handiwork, they would likely be surprised by such developments as the creation of a “presidential branch” of government (the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the like) and the establishment of so many federal departments and agencies. From three departments in 1789 (State, Treasury, and War, renamed Defense in 1947), a dozen more have been added to the cabinet. The newest creation in 2002, is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Formed from the merger of 22 separate executive branch units, it employs roughly 180,000 people. Clearly, given the role and scope of the federal establishment, the importance of Congress’ review function looms large in checking and monitoring the delegated authority that it grants to federal departments and agencies.

Also see Congressional Leadership and Committees; Contempt of Congress; § 8.70, Congress and the Executive: Oversight and Investigation, in Congressional Deskbook.

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