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Analysis

An Inside Look Into the 14th Oversight Boot Camp

(Photo: Getty Images; Illustration: Leslie Garvey / POGO)

Jointly hosted by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the Levin Center at Wayne Law, and the Lugar Center, the 14th Oversight Boot Camp took place from February 24–25, 2022. At this rigorous two-day training, 25 congressional staffers from both Democratic and Republican offices and 14 different congressional committees learned how to successfully conduct a congressional oversight investigation.

Held twice each year, the goal of Oversight Boot Camp is to foster bipartisan, fact-based, in-depth investigations and to help create better trust and working relationships between staffers from both the House and the Senate. After boot camp concluded, a staffer from a Senate Democrat’s office said, “Bipartisanship was emphasized at every step of the way during the boot camp. It’s easy to say that you value bipartisanship, but sometimes it’s hard to know what exactly that looks like for certain projects. The instructors did a really good job of giving specific examples of how to do things in a bipartisan way for each activity throughout the investigation.”

The training focused on four major parts of an investigation: the investigative research, the hearing, the written product, and the follow-up plan. Participants were equipped with tools, strategies, and tips they could use to execute effective investigations.

The boot camp was held virtually, so participants used an online interactive platform to brainstorm and develop a detailed investigative plan. A House Republican staffer commented that “the Google Doc[s] presentation made it really easy to work as a team on the exercises.”

Oversight Boot Camp prepares congressional staffers to conduct bipartisan oversight investigations.

Over the course of the boot camp, congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle attended virtual lectures about the four steps of an oversight investigation, then applied what they learned in four different breakout groups. In their groups, congressional staffers chose committees — including the House Small Business Committee, the Senate Small Business Committee, and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations — and determined the best strategy for conducting an oversight investigation about a fictitious Paycheck Protection Program loan scandal, which examined how a hypothetical big law firm exploited money from a small business loan. Working together, each group developed an investigative plan, a hearing plan, the outline of a report, and a follow-up plan. Some groups focused on the bad actors and potential audits, while others focused on the Small Business Administration’s implementation of the program, types of witnesses they wanted at the hearing, and obtaining important documentation. The groups presented each of their plans for critique and feedback from the facilitators and their fellow boot camp participants.

In addition to planning each step of their investigation, participants assumed the roles of lawyers, whistleblowers, investigators, legislative affairs liaisons, media representatives, and lobbyists. The role-play allowed participants to put their new skills to the test and encouraged them to think through obstacles they may one day face in a real oversight investigation. By the end of boot camp, participants had worked through all the stages of an investigation and concluded with their findings. A staffer from a Democrat’s office said, “The Boot Camp was fun and informational. I feel more than prepared to lead my Committee in oversight investigations, whether briefing my Chair, navigating potential barriers, building relationships with future witnesses, and working with our colleagues across the aisle.”

Tim Stretton, director of the Congressional Oversight Initiative at POGO, and Elise Bean, co-director of the Levin Center’s Washington office, hosted and headed the training. Each boot camp also features two guest lecturers — one Democratic and one Republican current or former congressional staffer. Guest speakers for this boot camp included Jen Gaspar, chief counsel and deputy staff director for the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and John Strom, oversight counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Given their experiences investigating issues surrounding COVID-19, the guest instructors provided invaluable feedback and guidance during the fictitious Paycheck Protection Program loan fraud scandal.

Here’s what some Oversight Boot Camp attendees had to say about the training:

  • “Working through real life examples in such an engaging bipartisan format will have lasting impacts on the way we conduct business on the hill and my career personally.” — Senate Republican staffer
  • “This Boot Camp exceeded my expectations tenfold! If you’re looking for an interactive experience where you’ll walk away with valuable tips and relationships, this is definitely worth trying.” — Senate Democrat staffer
  • “The Congressional Oversight Boot Camp shared decades of experience that will be useful for any staffer working on oversight.” House Democrat staffer
  • “Fantastic learning experience. Two days of immersing myself into oversight work provided great experience for the rest of my career.” House Republican staffer
  • “I really enjoyed the POGO Oversight Bootcamp; I thought the structure, the breakout sessions, the role-playing exercises, and feedback were really useful. I would recommend it to staff that are trying to learn more about oversight on the Hill.” Senate Democrat staffer
  • “The Oversight Boot Camp provided me with the tools, knowledge, and resources to feel prepared for conducting oversight activities in my current capacity and made me more interested in pursuing future opportunities for investigations.”
    — House Republican staffer
  • “Really enjoyed the bipartisan nature of the seminar, as it allowed me to work with people I may never have interacted with in my day-to-day job. The timely nature of the investigation illustrates that an oversight investigator’s work is never done.”
    — Republican staffer

Oversight Boot Camp prepares congressional staffers to conduct bipartisan oversight investigations. By attending these boot camp trainings, participants contribute to creating a stronger, more effective legislative branch.

The next Oversight Boot Camp will be held in August 2022. To learn more about what is offered at our boot camp trainings, visit our website.