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"What's In It For Me?": Why Members of Congress Pursue Oversight
Unformatted Document Text:  examine MCs’ relative preferences for seats on House subcommittees whose jurisdictionsfocus mostly or exclusively on oversight. Expanding my analysis to all House committeesand subcommittees that have some jurisdictional authority to conduct oversight hearingsin Section 3, I analyze why certain House units hold frequent hearings while others donot, testing a number of hypotheses that relate to MCs’ motivations. Section 4 concludes. 2 Oversight Subcommittee Service: Boon or Bur-den? 2.1 A Method for Determining MCs’ Subcommittee Preferences 2.1.1 Transfers as Revealed Preferences To determine the value that MCs attach to service on each of the 119 House subcommitteesin existence for at least one session during the 1997-2006 period (105-109 th Congress), I examine transfers among subcommittees during this period, considering MC i’s transferfrom Subcommittee A to Subcommittee B as an expression of preference of A over B. This view of subcommittee transfers as an expression of preference is grounded in a well-established literature stating the same at the committee level (Bullock & Sprague,1969; Bullock, 1973; Munger, 1988; Groseclose & Stewart, 1998; Stewart & Groseclose,1999). Freshman MCs, the theory goes, are initially placed on a set of committees andsubcommittees that may not represent their most preferred portfolio. As they ascendthe seniority and power ladders, MCs often elect to transfer to more preferred bodies.According to Bullock (1973, p. 89): Committee transfers can be thought of as occurring at the juncture of mo- tivation and opportunity curves. A congressman may seek a new assignmentto gain the power and prestige it offers, to serve his constituents’ interestsbetter, or to exert influence over matters which interest him. Opportunitiesfor transfer may be conditioned by seniority and electoral security. The oft-quoted experience of Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) provides a good illus- tration of Bullock’s statement. Upon entering Congress in 1969, Chisholm was initiallyassigned to the Agriculture Committee. Considering that she was elected to representBedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Chisholm was clearly unhappy with this assignment, stat-ing, “it would be hard to imagine an assignment that is less relevant to my backgroundor to the needs of the ... people who elected me.” She successfully transferred to the committee-level institutional capacity (e.g., amount of power devolution from a committee to its subcom-mittees; number of committee staffers ... as well the same “divided government” and “oversight mandate”explanatory variables that I also include later in this paper) to explain the number of committee oversighthearings held. Aberbach shows that variables related to committee capacity play a part, but, becausehis research design does not emphasize MCs’ motivations, the analysis may have erroneously assigned acausal role to these committee-level capacity measures, which in fact may be intervening variables. Forinstance, a committee whose members are interested in oversight may lobby for a larger staff budget inorder to pursue oversight. In this case, an increase in staff may have temporally preceded an increase inoversight hearings, but the increased staff resources cannot be said to have caused the boost in oversight.To better understand the role that MCs’ interests play in oversight, I develop and test hypotheses relatedto MCs’ motivations later in this paper. 3

Authors: Feinstein, Brian.
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examine MCs’ relative preferences for seats on House subcommittees whose jurisdictions
focus mostly or exclusively on oversight. Expanding my analysis to all House committees
and subcommittees that have some jurisdictional authority to conduct oversight hearings
in Section 3, I analyze why certain House units hold frequent hearings while others do
not, testing a number of hypotheses that relate to MCs’ motivations. Section 4 concludes.
Oversight Subcommittee Service: Boon or Bur-
A Method for Determining MCs’ Subcommittee Preferences
Transfers as Revealed Preferences
To determine the value that MCs attach to service on each of the 119 House subcommittees
in existence for at least one session during the 1997-2006 period (105-109
Congress), I
examine transfers among subcommittees during this period, considering MC i’s transfer
from Subcommittee A to Subcommittee B as an expression of preference of A over B.
This view of subcommittee transfers as an expression of preference is grounded in a
well-established literature stating the same at the committee level (Bullock & Sprague,
1969; Bullock, 1973; Munger, 1988; Groseclose & Stewart, 1998; Stewart & Groseclose,
1999). Freshman MCs, the theory goes, are initially placed on a set of committees and
subcommittees that may not represent their most preferred portfolio. As they ascend
the seniority and power ladders, MCs often elect to transfer to more preferred bodies.
According to Bullock (1973, p. 89):
Committee transfers can be thought of as occurring at the juncture of mo-
tivation and opportunity curves. A congressman may seek a new assignment
to gain the power and prestige it offers, to serve his constituents’ interests
better, or to exert influence over matters which interest him. Opportunities
for transfer may be conditioned by seniority and electoral security.
The oft-quoted experience of Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) provides a good illus-
tration of Bullock’s statement. Upon entering Congress in 1969, Chisholm was initially
assigned to the Agriculture Committee. Considering that she was elected to represent
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Chisholm was clearly unhappy with this assignment, stat-
ing, “it would be hard to imagine an assignment that is less relevant to my background
or to the needs of the ... people who elected me.” She successfully transferred to the
committee-level institutional capacity (e.g., amount of power devolution from a committee to its subcom-
mittees; number of committee staffers ... as well the same “divided government” and “oversight mandate”
explanatory variables that I also include later in this paper) to explain the number of committee oversight
hearings held. Aberbach shows that variables related to committee capacity play a part, but, because
his research design does not emphasize MCs’ motivations, the analysis may have erroneously assigned a
causal role to these committee-level capacity measures, which in fact may be intervening variables. For
instance, a committee whose members are interested in oversight may lobby for a larger staff budget in
order to pursue oversight. In this case, an increase in staff may have temporally preceded an increase in
oversight hearings, but the increased staff resources cannot be said to have caused the boost in oversight.
To better understand the role that MCs’ interests play in oversight, I develop and test hypotheses related
to MCs’ motivations later in this paper.

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