Oversight Case Studies Are Must-Read

Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:06pm

When it comes to Congressional investigations, to Stanley Brand, every case is a lot like “Groundhog Day.”

People caught up in crises and scandals often ignore historical precedent when they come under Congressional scrutiny, Brand said, and that can lead to disaster during an unnerving investigative hearing.

“It’s funny, the cases are like ‘Groundhog Day,’” Brand said. “Everybody thinks it’s happening to them for the first time, but most of it has happened before historically. … The cases begin to have a lot of common threads.”

In his new book, Brand, who served as general counsel to the Clerk of the House from 1976 to 1983 under Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), tackles the past century’s highest-profile investigations, delving into the nitty-gritty details of the government’s most controversial moments.

“Congressional Investigations and Oversight: Case Studies and Analysis” weaves together law, politics and history to explore the legislative branch’s role in monitoring and scrutinizing the government.
Brand co-wrote the book with Lance Cole, director of the Center for Government Law and Public Policy Studies at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law. Brand also serves as the university’s distinguished fellow in law and government.

With few books on the market devoted to Congressional investigations, Cole and Brand set out to develop a study focusing on the major events in the field’s recent history. Each chapter combines judicial and Congressional source material with book excerpts and analytical passages.

The result of their work is a collection of case studies — from the Teapot Dome scandal to the 9/11 commission — that gives government officials the opportunity to trace the roots of Congressional oversight and study the legal and policy issues surrounding the process.

There’s one Congressional investigation that stands out, of course. For Brand, Watergate is the “watershed event” of the past century, a moment that completely changed the political and legal landscape.
The Watergate hearings, which the authors deem the “greatest congressional investigation in our nation’s history,” highlights the book’s central argument that effective legislative branch investigation and oversight is critical to the American system of government.

“Good oversight done well is a very important function to check excesses in both the executive branch and private sector,” Brand said. “Both parties have certainly pursued examples where they’ve uncovered important public issues through oversight. That’s the most valuable part of the process.”

Brand and Cole have much experience in the field, with 50 years of work conducting Congressional oversight, representing people appearing before committees and writing about the process in legal and popular journals.

“I’d like to think we’ve seen it all,” Brand said. “And we’ve been practitioners on both sides of the table.”

The authors’ in-depth knowledge, as well as the wealth of historical and legal material in the text, makes it a must-read for anyone on Capitol Hill. “It’s for lobbyists, lawyers, trade association directors and the staff who ply these waters,” Brand said. “I’d like to think it is a sourcebook for those working on Capitol Hill. Instead of going into the archives of the Congressional Research Service, it’s all in this book.”

“Congressional Investigations and Oversight: Case Studies and Analysis” is available from Carolina Academic Press at cap-press.com.