Intelligence Oversight

A New Resource: Announcing the Brookings House Oversight Tracker

By Molly E. Reynolds
Thursday, March 21, 2019, 10:00 AM

When Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in January, they pledged that the transition would usher in a period of vigorous oversight of the executive branch. As Lawfare readers know, that effort has featured a number of high-profile hearings, including a House Committee on the Judiciary session with then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing with President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. House committees have also issued requests for a wide range of written information, such as the 81 document requests sent by the Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into threats against the rule of law.

To help make sense of this kind of activity in the House during the 116th Congress, a team in Brookings’s Governance Studies program has assembled the interactive House Oversight Tracker. While congressional oversight can take a number of forms, our tracker monitors two of them: first, hearings, and second, letters sent by House committees to current and former executive branch officials and individuals with knowledge of executive branch operations. These efforts include not only activity related to allegations of misconduct against the president and those associated with him since the 2016 election—which is likely to be of particular interest to Lawfare readers—but also a wide range of policy decisions made by the White House and federal agencies. Investigative efforts around issues such as the family separation policy, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulation have been important areas of focus for House committees in the early weeks of the new Congress.

Here’s how the tracker works. Each oversight action corresponds to a clickable row in the interactive; you can expand an entry to see the individuals involved—including hearing witnesses and the senders and recipients of letters—and the associated House committees. Links to relevant primary source documents, such as the text of letters and witness opening statements, are also included. Users can filter the data in order to examine oversight activity in one of 10 policy areas; Lawfare readers may be particularly interested in activity in the following areas: Criminal Justice and Rule of Law, Government Operations and Ethics, and Defense and Foreign Policy. We’ve also labeled each hearing or letter with the topic of the associated investigation. This may be particularly helpful to users who have more specific interests or to those who are curious about investigations that span several policy areas, such as oversight efforts related to the recent government shutdown.

Recent reporting suggests that compliance with House requests for information has been uneven, with the White House—as opposed to agencies—being especially reluctant to turn over requested documents. As conflict likely escalates between the branches over requests for material and appearances at hearings in the coming months, the House Oversight Tracker will be updated regularly.