Congressional oversight examined at WSU Law


In an effort to analyze and improve congressional oversight, the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School recently hosted almost two dozen scholars from 19 institutions for a Scholars Roundtable.

“Bipartisan congressional oversight is as important as ever as a means to investigate complex issues,” said former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Levin Center at Wayne Law and the law school’s distinguished legislator in residence. “This gathering of leading scholars is intended to generate new research to make congressional investigations more effective and useful.”

The roundtable discussion at Wayne State University Law School, located in Levin’s hometown of Detroit, brought together scholars with academic disciplines ranging from law and government, to political theory and history. 

Discussion included past research efforts as well as developing a national research agenda on congressional oversight. 

Potential future research topics include defining and measuring the effectiveness of oversight, exploring incentives for members of Congress to conduct oversight and understanding how congressional oversight efforts affect policy outcomes.

“Congressional capacity to conduct meaningful, evidence-based oversight is woefully inadequate,” said roundtable participant Prof. Richard L. Hall of the University of Michigan. “We need to understand why that is and what to do about it.” 

He said the center “assembled the best oversight scholars in the country to explore these questions and set the agenda for future research.”  

The roundtable on congressional oversight is the first of its kind in U.S. academic circles.

Other participants in the scholars roundtable shared the following feedback:

Bryan D. Jones, J.J. “Jake” Pickle Regents Chair in Congressional Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said Congress’ oversight duties “are as important as its lawmaking role.”
“The conference stimulated new ideas for research and practical suggestions for improvement,” he said.

Prof. Kathleen Clark of Washington University School of Law said the center is “undertaking absolutely vital work: Bringing together researchers from a range of disciplines, fostering collaboration among them in order to deepen our understanding of the congressional oversight process and connecting those scholars with current and former Capitol Hill staffers who have long experience with oversight investigations.” 

A major effort of the Levin Center at Wayne Law is promoting effective, bipartisan, fact-based oversight by legislatures at the federal, state, local and international levels. 

The center was formed in honor of Levin’s 36 years of public service in the U.S. Senate.