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A House Divided: What Politicized Oversight Means for Gov.’t Employees (and What They Can Do About It) – Part 2

It’s been over two months since control of the House of Representatives shifted parties. As I predicted in Part 1 of this blog post, significant House oversight activity is now under way with many investigations already started and more coming soon, spearheaded by the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability (House Oversight Committee).

The House Oversight Committee is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it has a broad mandate. According to House Rules, the Committee shall review and study on a continuing basis:

  • The application, administration execution, and effectiveness of laws and programs addressing subjects within its jurisdiction
  • The organization and operation of federal agencies and entities having responsibilities for the administration and execution of laws and programs addressing subjects within its jurisdiction
  • Any conditions or circumstances that may indicate the necessity or desirability of enacting new or additional legislation addressing subjects within its jurisdiction (whether or not a bill or resolution has been introduced with respect thereto)
  • Future research and forecasting on subjects within its jurisdiction

What does this all mean? It means that virtually no topic is off limits. If it’s been on the front page of the Washington Post, or the Committee wants it to be on the front page of the New York Post, you can be sure the Committee can find a basis to issue subpoenas and document requests and convene hearings and press conferences.

What’s more, this oversight activity is just from one single committee. Many other congressional committees and even individual members of Congress, routinely engage in oversight-like investigative activities, sometimes in ways that suggest a concerted effort.

That’s why bureaucratic accountability is now more important than ever for public institutions who are about to be on the receiving end of an investigative onslaught. I can’t emphasize enough that the current oversight climate demands not just that you do the right thing every day — like you already are — but that you are also able to prove that you are doing the right thing. Even if the House Oversight Committee doesn’t come knocking (and they probably will), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is always ready and willing to ask questions (and publish the answers).

This can involve Correspondence management, Freedom of Information Request Act (FOIA) processing, Office of Inspector General (OIG) program management, OIG Investigations, and every other nook and cranny of Federal Government activities. Having the right systems in place to automatically capture information about your case processing and give you the ability to generate audit trails and comprehensive reports about every step of your case process will help ensure that you are beyond reproach — and can prove it.

Fortunately, there a number of tools available to agencies and institutions to help: 

  • Dedicated FOIA case management software can help manage the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of new FOIA requests that will be submitted by extremely engaged requesters triggered by highly publicized oversight activity.
  • Highly capable and configurable correspondence management software helps your agency process, track, and respond to Congressional correspondence in a quick and consistent manner according to your agency’s own SOPs, helping you save hours and days of effort and sleepless nights.
  • End-to-end audit management software can streamline your OIG audit process from planning through recommendation tracking and everything in between, so you can justify and report on your activities and findings at the push of a button.

No matter what software you decide to adopt, it is important to make sure that it is highly configurable so it adapts to your agency SOPs and doesn’t force you to use workarounds that impair your ability to gather and report on your activities, require unnecessary investment in money and training, or introduce avoidable risk. By investing in these much-needed tools before your agency or institution is under investigation, you can unlock important efficiencies and head off any issues so they don’t become larger problems. That way you can be sure to be prepared for whatever the 118th, 119th, or even 125th Congress has in store.

Benjamin Tingo is the Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at OPEXUS. OPEXUS (formerly AINS) is a DC-based GovTech 100 awardee whose mission is to empower professionals to elevate trust in public institutions through the design, development, and delivery of specialized case management software, including Open Government (FOIA and Correspondence), OIG Audits and Investigations, and Human Resources/Employee Management. Benjamin is a licensed attorney, with nearly twenty years of experience with complex civil and criminal litigation and as in-house GovTech counsel. He is also a member of NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee and a volunteer firefighter.

Image by Andy Felliciotti on unsplash.com

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