Legislative Oversight Working Group Recap:
The CSG West Legislative Oversight Working Group, co-chaired by Senator Todd Weiler (UT) and Assemblymember David Alvarez (CA), gathers to exchange ideas on successes and improvements to enhance oversight practices in the members’ respective chambers. This effort aims to improve government accountability, transparency, and responsiveness.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred historic levels of federal fiscal relief to state and local governments. Oversight over how these funds are appropriated and managed is critical. This session addressed these emergent issues.
The importance of legislative oversight
Ben Eikey, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and former Assemblymember Ken Cooley (CA) gave an introduction on the importance of legislative oversight and best practices. Primary avenues for state legislative oversight include:
- Analytic bureaucracies
- The appropriations process
- Administrative rule review
- Advice and consent
- Monitoring contracts.
Notably, Cooley served as co-chair of this Working Group while serving in the Assembly and was the driving force behind the creation of the Western Legislative Oversight Handbook. This year, He was awarded the Bettye Fahrenkamp Award for Distinguished Legislative Leadership on Behalf of Western States. In addition to offering insight into the various avenues of oversight, he moderated a storytelling exercise for legislators.
People’s House: Oversight Can be Bipartisan & Bicameral
“When it comes to oversight functions—of either oversight committees, oversight subcommittees, or any other special task force; anything created to oversee the executive branch—take off your party hat. Put it in a drawer, and deal with this as somebody who has taken an oath of office—or works for somebody who has taken an oath of office—to carry out the mandates of the Constitution to function as the people’s voice.”
The Honorable Mickey Edwards, former Member of Congress (R-OK)
Using the legislative role to influence oversight changes
Strategies for legislators include recognizing that you can request investigations and reports, that legislators can trigger research by asking questions that prompt reconsideration and modification, and that oversight can have as much or more impact as legislation.
A move toward being more efficient and agile in state legislatures
Cooley led a storytelling roundtable among legislators, encouraging them to share their successes and frustrations with the process. After reviewing the oversight basics, he invited attendees to share examples of oversight, hoping that their stories would spur creativity so when legislators head home, there is a resolve to prioritize oversight on the public’s behalf.
Members expressed great interest in oversight practices as essential to enacting effective legislation. Many members shared stories of barriers and red tape, which have hampered efforts to be efficient and agile. Shared solutions and strategies include direct communication to address an issue in its infancy, being willing to communicate openly, and creating a culture where oversight is more proactive than reactive.
Up next, the working group will be updating the Western Legislative Oversight Handbook
The Working Group will meet virtually over the next several months to update the handbook and present a draft at CSG West’s 77th Annual Meeting on July 9-12, 2024, in Portland, Oregon.