The First Hybrid Oversight Boot Camp

(Illustration: Renzo Velez / POGO)

The 15th Oversight Boot Camp — jointly hosted by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, and the Lugar Center — took place from August 17-18, 2022. The first day of boot camp was held in person, and the second day was conducted online after a participant tested positive for COVID, making this the first ever hybrid Oversight Boot Camp. Despite the change in plans, 35 congressional staffers, from both Democratic and Republican offices and 18 different congressional committees, learned how to successfully conduct a congressional oversight investigation. It was our biggest boot camp cohort to date.

Held twice each year, the goal of Oversight Boot Camp is to foster bipartisan, fact-based, in-depth investigations and to create better trust and working relationships between staffers from both the House and the Senate. It is a space for staffers doing important oversight work on both sides of the aisle to get to know each other. By attending these boot camp trainings, participants contribute to creating a stronger, more effective legislative branch. A study conducted at the University of Michigan found that six months after the boot camp training, participants retained oversight knowledge, and that staffers who sought oversight boot camps and seminars worked in Congress longer than those who did not.

The Training

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 boot camp training. Each boot camp also features two guest lecturers: one Democrat and one Republican, who are current or former congressional staffers. The guest speakers for this boot camp were Sang Yi, chief investigative counsel and staff director for the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Carol Wayman, senior policy advisor in the office of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). Given their extensive investigative experience, the guest instructors provided invaluable feedback and guidance during the training scenario: a scandal surrounding a hypothetical cryptocurrency mining operation.

The training focused on four major parts of a congressional oversight investigation: the investigative research, the hearing, the written product, and the follow-up plan. Over the course of the boot camp, congressional staffers heard from the instructors about those four steps, then applied what they learned in four small, bipartisan breakout groups made up of other staffers they may have never met, or who may work in a different chamber. In their groups, congressional staffers then chose committees — including the House Committee on Financial Services; the Senate Banking Committee; the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and the House Energy and Commerce Committee — and determined the best strategy for conducting an oversight investigation about a fictitious scandal, which examined how a cryptocurrency mining firm may be exploiting community resources and the electric grid to serve its facility.

The training focused on four major parts of a congressional oversight investigation: the investigative research, the hearing, the written product, and the follow-up plan.

Working together, each group developed an investigative plan, a hearing plan, an outline of a report, and a follow-up plan. Some groups focused on government agencies, while others focused on the private sector. The groups presented each of their plans for critique and feedback from the instructors 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. This roleplay allowed participants to put their new skills to the test and encouraged them to think through situations they may 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.

Feedback and Future Trainings

Outside of the training, participants had the chance to network with each other at an informal icebreaker event at The Monocle after the first day. This gave them an opportunity to talk with the instructors more freely and forge connections with others in the oversight field in a casual environment. Through informal connections and hands-on collaboration during the training, participants gained experience working with staffers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers of Congress.

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

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

  • “The POGO Boot Camp is a great professional development opportunity for mid- to senior-level staff looking to deepen their investigative abilities. It advanced my understanding by leaps and bounds of how to lead a high-quality investigation with tangible lessons and activities.” — Democratic staffer 
  • “The Oversight Boot Camp was an extremely beneficial learning experience. As I start my oversight career on the Hill, I am certain I will use these skills for many years to come.” House Republican staffer 
  • “Top notch training by experts in their field. Provides the necessary guidance to navigate the numerous aspects of a congressional investigation.” House Democratic staffer
  • “This is an invaluable experience which surpassed my expectations. I will be leaning on much of what I learned.” — Republican staffer
  • “This training was very relevant and included many important tips to improve my work in Congress.” — House Democratic staffer

Oversight Boot Camp prepares congressional staffers to conduct bipartisan oversight investigations. Participants left the training equipped with practical tools, strategies, and tips they could use to execute effective investigations, which they learned from the instructors as well as each other.

The next Oversight Boot Camp will be held in February 2023. To learn more about our boot camp trainings, visit our website.