On February 22 and 23, 2023, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and the Lugar Center jointly hosted our 16th Oversight Boot Camp. Twenty-one congressional staffers, both Democrat and Republican, from 12 different congressional committees participated in the intensive two-day training in person on Capitol Hill. Over the course of the training, staff learned how to successfully conduct a congressional oversight investigation from start to finish.
Held twice each year, the goal of Oversight Boot Camp is to foster bipartisan, fact-based, and in-depth investigations while establishing trust and better working relationships between staffers from the House and the Senate. This training is a space where participants cultivate relationships that will help them achieve more collaborative bipartisan work. Throughout the boot camp, participants learn to conduct robust oversight, which contributes to a more effective legislative branch.
The 16th Oversight Boot Camp was hosted by Tim Stretton, director of the Congressional Oversight Initiative at POGO, and Elise Bean, co-director of the Levin Center’s Washington office. It also featured guest instructors: from majority staff, Lauren Stimpert, senior counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, and from minority staff, Jen Gaspar, former deputy staff director and chief counsel for the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Guest instructors at all boot camp trainings consist of a Republican and a Democrat who are either current or former congressional staffers. Drawing from their extensive experience conducting oversight investigations, all the instructors provided invaluable tips and guidance to participants.
The oversight training was divided into four sections and split between two days. Participants were divided into teams representing various congressional committees: the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; House Financial Services Committee; Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Senate Committee on the Judiciary. By means of these committees, participants used their jurisdiction to tackle a scandal, in this case a fictitious scenario investigating the enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and its intended aim to inform the public about foreign influence over U.S. policy and public opinion. Working together, each group developed an investigative plan, a hearing plan, the outline of a report, and a follow-up plan to tackle the scandal. One participant said, “I enjoyed the investigative plan and report sections. And the stories the instructors had to say on them.”
The groups presented each of their plans for critique, and received invaluable feedback from the instructors and their fellow boot camp participants. Referring to the instructors, one participant said, “They are so willing to offer candid answers and offer feedback that is constructive.” Another mentioned, “They were fantastic and brought a vast array of knowledge and backgrounds from both sides and Senate/House!”
Throughout the exercises, participants assumed the roles of congressional investigators while the instructors represented lawyers, whistleblowers, legislative affairs liaisons, media representatives, campaign staff, and lobbyists in a role-playing activity. One participant said they particularly enjoyed “how interactive the sessions were as it allowed us to have skills and to better get to know other participants.” Trying out different roles gave participants the chance to put their new skills to the test and encouraged them to think through situations they may face in a real oversight investigation. One boot camper “thought the role playing exercises were very relevant to issues that have come up.” By the end of boot camp, participants had worked through all the stages of an investigation and concluded with their findings.
Feedback and Future Trainings
Here’s what some Oversight Boot Camp attendees had to say about the training:
- “It was very valuable to learn about the formal mechanisms of congressional oversight, but I especially enjoyed learning the more subtle oversight tips and tricks.”
- “This was probably one of the best seminars/trainings that I’ve attended. The lectures plus role playing and critique were very helpful instructively and in application.”
- “It was genuinely illuminating to learn the methodology behind hearing construction in order to achieve a planned purpose/goal.”
- “I enjoyed all of the examples which really helped clarify/illustrate the themes across the materials. All the activities were incredibly helpful.”
- “Taking things in small steps/digestible chunks made an intimidating project less so.”
- “[Liked] the opportunity to connect with colleagues across the aisle and chambers to learn different oversight strategies.”
Oversight Boot Camp prepares congressional staffers to conduct bipartisan oversight investigations. By attending these trainings, participants form connections from across the aisle with staffers from both the House and the Senate, and contribute to creating a stronger, more effective legislative branch.
The next Oversight Boot Camp will be held in August 2023. To learn more about what’s offered at our boot camp trainings, visit our website.