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Congressional oversight of the bureaucracy

The video explains how Congress oversees the executive branch of the U.S. government. It highlights two main tools: setting the budget (power of the purse) and conducting committee hearings. These methods help Congress monitor the actions of the 2.8 million people in the federal bureaucracy.

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Video transcript

- [Teacher] In multiple videos already, we have talked about the three branches of government at the federal level. You have the legislative branch, which is Congress, made up of two houses. The House of Representatives and the Senate. You have the executive branch with the President at the head of the executive branch. And of course you have the judicial. Now what we're going to focus on in this video is in previous videos we've talked about that the executive branch is in charge of running the government while the legislative branch, they're the folks who either write laws or control the budget. Now what we're going to do in this video is dig a little bit deeper in terms of how does Congress have oversight over the executive branch. When we think of the executive branch, we often think of the President or maybe the people who work around the president. But the federal bureaucracy is roughly 2.8 million people, and we talk about that in other videos. And so, how do we have oversight over these 2.8 million people? Well first of all, there is a whole managerial structure within the executive branch, but on top of that, you have the legislative branch having oversight over the executive agencies. Over these 2.8 million people. And there's two primary means of this oversight. The first one is Congress sets the budget. This is often known as power of the purse. And if Congress doesn't like how a certain agency is spending its money, they might reduce the budget there. If they really think that some agency's doing a good job or needs more resources, they might give them more resources in the next budget. The other tool of oversight that Congress has is committee hearings. And we have talked about this in other videos. But this is where the appropriate committee within Congress, it might be within the Senate or the House of Representatives, will call in leaders from the executive agency that they are overseeing to ask them questions. Hey, why did this not go as we planned? Or how do you deal with this situation? Or why are you spending more money than we thought you were actually going to spend? Now, to be clear, this is not always going to work. When we're talking about 2.8 million people, there definitely might be things that go on within these executive agencies that Congress, of course, will not have complete control of with just these two levers. Or they might not even know all of the details. But they try to do the committee hearings in order to get a reasonable understanding of what's going on and then leverage their budgetary powers in order to have some level of oversight. Now to get a feel for what this looks like, I'm about to show you an example of a Senate committee hearing. And this is a committee hearing where they brought in some folks from the FBI. And what's interesting about this one, this is not about national security. This committee hearing is about relocating or where they put the Federal Bureau of Investigation agency buildings. And you can see that there's definitely a tone of oversight in this video. - Mr. Matthews, I'm having a hard time accepting what you're saying here. So I'ma be perfectly blunt about that. You now say a major reason for terminating the original prospectus was that the transfer of the Hoover Building, something that you all wanted, and we didn't want. Congress didn't like that idea. But you said it was something you needed to do to get it done. So now we're supposed to believe that's the reason why you terminated for something that you wanted. Secondly, the consolidation, one of the major reasons for the consolidation on costs is to save rental costs. That's what you've told us all along. That it's more expensive to have places outside of the central location. And now you're saying it's a wash. Can you understand why I'm hanging a hard time accepting the information you're presenting? - Yes, Senator. So with respect to your first question, the issue-- - And quickly 'cause I heard-- we have your written statement on the transfer of the buildings. I agree with you on the transfer of the building. Didn't makes sense. But you insisted on it. - Well I would say personally I came here in August. - Your agency insisted on it in the prospectives that they submitted, they insisted that this be part of the deal. - Yes, they did, and I suggest that was a mistake. - And I've suggest that the information you're giving us right now maybe likewise a mistake.