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Sticks
2008-Nov-02, 06:13 PM
This is for a sci-fi thing I have been doing.

I understand each department or government agency will have some kind of oversight committee, so this question is about how they are structured

Are members of oversight committees all elected officials, if so are they exclusively from congress or do some from the senate sit on them.

Do non politicians ever get to sit on these committees? If so, how are they appointed / co-opted

Also is there an oversight of oversight committees?

geonuc
2008-Nov-02, 06:32 PM
Oversight commitees are creatures of the Congress (which comprises the House and the Senate). Either body can form these committees at their discretion. They include only elected officials.

publius
2008-Nov-02, 06:50 PM
Sticks,

Actually, the Congress includes both the Senate and the House. In standard usage, "congressman" refers to a member of the House, while a member of the Senate is always called "senator". The proper title of a member of the House would be "representative". Now, technically "congressman" could really apply to both, but it is used only for the House. A senator would probably get his ego in a knot if he were called a mere congressman.

Now, oversight. Both houses of Congress have various committees that oversee the executive branch. These committees have staff, which are hired by each house according to whatever standards they set. These staff are the ones that actually do the grunt work. Members have their own individual staff, but the committees have their own staff who do work related to the committee's function.

If there's some big investigation going on, they may hire additional lawyers and investigators.

Now, who oversees the overseers? Well, technically that would be the executive branch. If members of Congress are up to no good, the executive branch, in the form of Justice/FBI, etc. would be the one to handle that.

However, there are big separation of powers issues. Congress will get its knickers in a wad when the FBI actually "executes" on legislative "ground". There was a recent case involving this. Some representative, William Jefferson of Louisana I believe, was in some bribery and corruption investigation and the FBI tried to serve a search warrant on his congressional offices. They made a stink about that. How dare the executive set foot on our hallowed ground!

They do have a point, but when the target is guilty as sin, it sounds like a pitiful excuse. They can go after a member's private offices and property just like any other citizen, it's only the official legislative property that comes under this separation of powers.

Now, even with oversight, separation of powers comes in. THe legislature can only legislate, it can't execute. It has no police power. That belongs to the executive. So while they can oversee and investigate, they can't arrest or prosecute. They can change the law, restructure, fund and defund, etc, etc to make changes and improve the executive branch, but they can't prosecute any crimes. They can only make it public and call on the executive to exercise any police powers that are warranted.

That's where the "special" and "independent" prosecutor mechanism can come in. If wrongdoing is discovered by high executive officials, they can call for a special prosecutor to be appointed who will supposedly be independent of those suspect high officials.

-Richard

Sticks
2008-Nov-02, 06:59 PM
So what kind, if any of committee would involve non elected officials, but would make sure a government agency was run properly?

Here in the UK with schools we have boards of governors, and the BBC had something similar.

Is there a US variant for some government agencies? Especially the intelligence, law enforcement and defence agencies.

Edit This was posted before seeing publius's post - which does give me more to think about for my sci-fi thing

geonuc
2008-Nov-02, 09:48 PM
Sticks,

Actually, the Congress includes both the Senate and the House.
I thought I had just said that.

PraedSt
2008-Nov-02, 09:59 PM
Government agencies have oversight? That's odd, because...

schlaugh
2008-Nov-02, 10:59 PM
Sticks, you might check out articles on the president's cabinet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Cabinet) which head up the various bureaucracies. For example, the head of the Department of Homeland Security has more than 200,000 people in that government agency. The Secretary of State is head of the State Department.

There really aren't oversight committees per se. The ad hoc or standing Congressional committees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Congressional_committee) mentioned above are about as close as we get.

jrkeller
2008-Nov-02, 11:07 PM
There is the Government Accountability Office (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Accountability_Office) which is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress. It is located in the Legislative branch of the United States government. The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 15-year, non-renewable term.

publius
2008-Nov-02, 11:27 PM
I thought I had just said that.

I was posting to Sticks. I started to respond before your post appeared, but yours got there first.

-Richard

mugaliens
2008-Nov-02, 11:28 PM
Essentially, each of the three branches of the US Government, the Executive Branch (President), the Legislative Branch (Congress = House of Representatives + Senate), and the Judicial Branch (Supreme Court) are their own oversight.

However, each branch provides checks and balances on the other two branches:

- Congress makes laws, the President holds veto authority, and Congress can override the President's veto.

- The President appoints judges to the Supreme Court, but they must be ratified by Congress.

- The Supreme Court interprets Congressional law.

- etc. For more, search on the balance of powers for the federal government.

In short, it's fairly well balanced.

Now - within each branch, there are indeed oversight committees which ensure that the various organizations within that branch are doing what they're supposed to be doing, as previously detailed.

novaderrik
2008-Nov-03, 12:18 AM
once yo uget past all the layers of lawyers and committees and staffers, the ultimate oversight is supposed to come from the people that elect the officials.

and one must never forget about the so-called "think tanks" and lobbyists that shape public policy by finding loopholes in the laws of the land to influence the way the elected officials vote...

yup, we have a great system here in the colonies..

Sticks
2008-Nov-03, 05:56 AM
What about oversight of the security and intelligence services, where some subjects may have to be discussed In Camera i.e in secret.

Sticks
2008-Nov-03, 05:58 AM
There is the Government Accountability Office (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Accountability_Office) which is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress. It is located in the Legislative branch of the United States government. The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 15-year, non-renewable term.

Sounds similar to our National Audit Office (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Audit_Office_(United_Kingdom))

geonuc
2008-Nov-03, 09:02 AM
What about oversight of the security and intelligence services, where some subjects may have to be discussed In Camera i.e in secret.
The Congress has oversight on those, too. Meetings are often closed-door and some things are only discussed with senior committee members.

mugaliens
2008-Nov-03, 06:07 PM
What about oversight of the security and intelligence services, where some subjects may have to be discussed In Camera i.e in secret.

Aw, come on, Sticks! You know better than to ask those questions! We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you...