Checks and Balances in Action: Legislative Oversight across the States

The Center for Urban Studies (CUS) investigation examines the practices and processes of legislative oversight across the 50 states, endeavoring to understand both the institutional oversight resources available to state legislators and the extent to which legislators actually use these resources to oversee the workings of the executive branch.

The research team spent more than 18 months investigating states’ checks and balances from the perspective of legislative oversight of the executive branch. They focused initially on prerogatives embodied in official policies and then moved on to examine the extent to which these powers are exercised in practice. To do this, they gathered data on state legislative oversight by examining documents and web sites, listening to committee hearings, reading committee minutes, searching news media accounts, reading audit reports, and conducting interviews with knowledgeable sources in the states. The availability of evidence of oversight differed significantly among the states, making the analysis for some states clearer and more detailed than others.

For ten states, chosen from those initially judged to have more extensive oversight resources, the researchers completed a more substantial case study of their processes and practices to determine how they use the tools they have.  For the remaining 40 states the report provides a basic summary of legislative oversight, emphasizing their resources and capacities. Although the study sought to provide a picture of these states’ use of oversight, in the time available, it was not possible to study the 40 in sufficient depth to be confident of their processes and practices. Therefore, these 40 summaries are a more preliminary assessment of oversight in these states.  The summaries did, however, despite their limitations, help identify some recommended best-practices as summarized in Appendix A that could be adopted by other states and Congress to facilitate solution-driven, evidence-based and bipartisan legislative oversight.

Download full report here.

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