Congressional Oversight Boot Camp trains staffers on investigations

Three nonprofit organizations seeking to improve the quality of public policy through bipartisan, fact-based congressional oversight investigations joined forces last week to sponsor an intensive training session for congressional staff, called an “Oversight Boot Camp.” The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School, and The Lugar Center presented the boot camp Aug. 11 and 12 on Capitol Hill.

Eighteen congressional staffers participated in the training workshop. The staffers came from both the House and Senate and from the Democratic and Republican parties. Most were from investigative committees, but a few were from the personal staffs of members of Congress. They included both junior and senior investigators.

Within an hour of being announced, the boot camp was booked to full capacity and had a significant wait list.

“The tremendous response to this boot camp shows the yearning to learn how to conduct bipartisan, indepth oversight,” said former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who conducted Senate investigations for more than 30 years before retiring earlier this year and who personally opened the boot camp session. “Effective bipartisan oversight can lead to good public policy, but it too often goes missing in Congress.”

“We believe the Oversight Boot Camp has great potential to bolster government accountability and bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and The Lugar Center looks forward to continuing our work in this area with our dedicated partners,” said former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said, “POGO is thrilled to partner with the Levin and Lugar centers and to see our suspicions confirmed that there is a thirst among congressional staff to learn how to accomplish effective and meaningful bipartisan oversight.”

The boot camp instructors – two each from Democratic and Republican offices – were former congressional investigators with decades of combined oversight experience.

Boot camp participants were divided into four bipartisan, bicameral teams, each with its own instructor and each assigned to work on one of two “scandals.” The boot camp then went through the four stages of an inquiry, from investigating the facts, to writing up the results, holding a hearing and addressing the identified problems. In each segment, the instructors discussed the relevant stage of the investigation, offered practical tips and advice and explained how bipartisan techniques could be built into the process to strengthen the investigative results. The instructors worked with the teams to produce an investigative plan, a report outline, a hearing plan and a plan for follow-up measures. The participants also engaged in various role-playing exercises.

Throughout the workshop, the instructors showed how bipartisanship led to investigative results that were more credible and persuasive, produced investigative fact-finding that was more thorough and accurate, and produced policy outcomes that were more closely tied to the facts and more likely to gain bipartisan support.

The Levin Center at Wayne Law, chaired by Levin, launched earlier this year in Detroit. The center’s goal is to educate future attorneys, business leaders, legislators and public servants on their role in overseeing public and private sector activities and using oversight as an instrument of change.

The Lugar Center, formed in 2013 in Washington, D.C., by Lugar, specializes in advancing a bipartisan approach to a range of defense and foreign affairs issues.

The Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group founded in 1981 in Washington, D.C., has operated a bipartisan lecture series on congressional oversight for nearly 10 years. It recently expanded its training efforts by establishing a Congressional Oversight Initiative that includes the boot camp training.

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