Sen. Tom Davis on Department of Administration

I have spent today researching the issue of legislative oversight over how the executive executes the laws, and the vast majority of authorities, whether from a conservative or liberal perspective, agrees that such is a good thing and leads to less secrecy and more accountability to the public. There are many relevant links, but I refer you to this one as being representative of them:

In this piece, the Project on Government Oversight (founded in 1981, an independent non-profit organization in the United States which investigates and seeks to expose corruption and other misconduct. POGO assists whistleblowers and investigates federal agencies, Congress, and government contractors) says this:
“At the end of the day, [legislative] oversight should lead to a better functioning government that better serves the citizenry. On that note, we were heartened when California Republican Darrell Issa, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said, ‘I want to prove the pundits wrong. My job is not to bring down the president. My job is to make the president a success.’

“There is a smorgasbord of real issues in need of greater oversight that can help make the government a success. Just for starters, POGO would like to see the new Congress investigate:
The shadow government, which includes the legions of contractors who perform tasks many think should be performed by government employees and so-called Self-Regulatory Organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA);
Effectiveness and scientific integrity in the FDA’s drug, medical device, and food safety regimes;
The General Service Administration’s perverse incentives to charge other government agencies more for contract services;
Troubled multibillion dollar weapons programs, such as the Joint Strike Fighter; and
Ethical lapses at the Bureau of Land Management, which is responsible for one-eighth of America’s landmass and the mineral resources that lie underneath.
“There’s no lack of scandal in each of these areas, but more importantly, oversight can do a lot of good for the American people, especially if it leads to improvements. Improving government ethics rules and enforcement, strengthening inspectors generals and other watchdogs, protecting whistleblowers, increasing transparency, and reducing conflicts of interest are just a handful of broad reforms that both sides of the political coin can agree on.”

In South Carolina, we are rightly concerned with legislative abuse of power, but in creating a new Department of Administration, which will correct at least some of that abuse, we must not neglect the possibility of executive abuse of power, and the legislature can and should play a role in checking such abuse and providing the public with better insight to how its government works.

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., speaking to this issue, noted that “The power to make laws implied the power to see whether they were faithfully executed. The right to secure needed information had long been deemed by both the British Parliament and the colonial assemblies as a necessary and appropriate attribute of the people to legislate.” He also noted that Congress could not reasonably or responsibly exercise its legislative powers without knowing what the executive was doing; how programs were being administered, by whom, and at what cost; and whether officials were obeying the law and complying with legislative intent. Moreover, the US Supreme Court made legitimate the oversight powers of Congress on several occasions. In 1927, for instance, the it found that in investigating the administration of the Justice Department, Congress was considering a subject “on which legislation could be had or would be materially aided by the information which the investigation was calculated to elicit.”

I think it would be inappropriate for the General Assembly to abdicated this role to the Legislative Audit Council. For one, such would be on an ad hoc basis, and there is a value to regular oversight. How can someone in the legislature ask for an investigation of executive abuse it he or she has no idea if it exists? Second, an LAC audit would not be public, and there is a value to having the oversight function be a public one.