IRS Intimidation and Deep Water Horizon: How Contingent Oversight Theory Explains the Politics of Congressional Investigations
44 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2012 Last revised: 7 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
We review the police patrol/fire alarm dichotomy of congressional oversight and find it wanting both theoretically and empirically. We develop a new theoretical account explaining the frequency and duration of committee investigations of alleged executive branch misdeeds. Using this new perspective, we explain the very different oversight experiences of two executive agencies over the past two decades: Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We demonstrate with contingent oversight theory that congressional investigations are driven not only by member opportunity costs but by broader contextual opportunity costs imposed by partisan, institutional, committee structures, and divided government. We argue that the police patrol/fire alarm model of oversight be dispensed with in favor of a more robust theory of investigations which better explains the varied attention of Congress’ watchful eye.
Keywords: oversight, MMS, IRS, contingent oversight theory, police patrol, fire alarms, investigations, Congress
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