brookings.edu

Copyright 2019

December 4, 2019

Improving congressional capacity to address problems and oversee the executive branch

A general view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington February 28, 2013. Positions hardened on Wednesday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders over the budget crisis even as they arranged to hold last-ditch talks to prevent harsh automatic spending cuts beginning this week. Looking resigned to the $85 billion in "sequestration" cuts starting on Friday, government agencies began reducing costs and spelling out to employees how furloughs will work.   REUTERS/Jason Reed   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - GM1E92S1U0N01

Summary

Congress, the first branch of government, has in addition to its legislative function the role of providing a meaningful check on executive branch power. But this power has weakened over the years for many reasons, including diminished staff resources and experience required to gather and process information, heightened partisan polarization, and increasing competition for control of the House and Senate. Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings, explains why Congress’s oversight role and authority relative to the executive has diminished, and offers reforms that would improve its capacity to address problems, enact legislation, and bolster legislative influence.