Giving Purpose to and Instilling Confidence in Washington Politics
October 21, 2016
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was established in 1816 under James Madison’s presidency. During this time, the government recognized a need for better oversight into how taxpayers’ dollars were being spent. Thus, the Oversight Committee was born. However, as the role of our government changed, the Committee adopted a reform component, and by the mid-1900s was charged with overseeing government operations to assess their economy and efficiency.
By Claudia Stedman, C’17
Since 1995, the Committee has expanded its jurisdiction to oversee activities of all federal agencies. Though OGR does not have prosecutorial power, it has historically worked very closely with other committees, such as the House Judiciary, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce committees, to determine legislative action once hearings are concluded.
One of the aspects that I found most fascinating about Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) when searching for internships on the Hill was the bi-partisan nature of this Committee. It is divided into the Majority (currently Republican) and Minority staffs with hearings and investigations conducted by members on both sides of the aisle. I was so drawn to this characteristic because I wanted to get a sense of whether politics in Washington was really as disharmonious as the media portrays. What I found through my internship this summer is that, at least with regards to OGR, compromise across the aisle is not only possible, but essential for this committee to function successfully.
In the past few months, the Committee has conducted hearings and probes into extremely politically contentious and high-profile cases, such as the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, the 2012 Benghazi Attacks, and IRS targeting of conservative and religiously-affiliated groups. Most recently, the Committee held a hearing with FBI Director James Comey to investigate his decision to not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton regarding her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.
This hearing was probably one of the most divisive the Committee has conducted, due to the fact that many Minority members felt that it was a “political witch hunt” and was only being conducted because Mrs. Clinton is running for president, a sentiment shared by many Americans. As a result of OGR’s probe, Congress issued a referral to the FBI to investigate some of the statements that Mrs. Clinton made while testifying under oath. Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in order to learn more about her perspective on the Clinton email server.
While the perceived purpose and utility of these hearings depends largely on one’s political affiliation, it was incredibly interesting, from an intern’s perspective, to help prepare for such a high-profile hearing and debrief with the staff and Chairman Chaffetz (R- UT) once the investigation had concluded.
Additionally, my work on the Healthcare, Benefits, and Administrative Rules Subcommittee within OGR has given me the opportunity to understand some of the more intricate details of what goes into hearing preparation, research, questioning, and obtaining witnesses. In this role, I have been able to help Subcommittee staff conduct research into the recent failure of Affordable Care Act CO-OPs, which we included in our hearing on the state of Obamacare in order to ask witnesses whether the law is succeeding or not. Not only did research for this Subcommittee hearing help me apply my academic experience as a Health and Societies major to work with OGR, but it also gave me a window into why passing and implementing legislation can be so difficult.
I am so appreciative of the experience that I have had to work with the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Before traveling to DC this summer, I was truthfully a bit worried that working on the Hill would make me pessimistic about politics. However, much to my relief, working with this Committee has been extremely positive and uplifting and something I would like to return to later on in my career.
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