Congressional Oversight

Whether in the executive branch or in Congress, the Revolving Door Project believes that political leaders need to think more creatively and energetically about how they can leverage the full range of their powers to advance the public interest. Over the last several years, this motivating principle has led us to dedicate significant time and energy to convincing the House Democratic majority of the need for congressional oversight that spotlights executive branch corruption and corporate wrongdoing. In the context of the Trump administration’s lawlessness and beyond, congressional oversight is a powerful — indeed essential — tool to uncover governmental and corporate abuse, enforce checks and balances, channel governmental resources towards issues of widespread public concern, and galvanize long-lasting political support. We at the Revolving Door Project believe that Congress must exploit this potential. 

Through op-eds, blog posts, letters, and interviews, we have sought to encourage congressional oversight at practically every turn. In all of that work — from pushing Rep. Richard Neal to request Trump’s tax returns and arguing in favor of impeachment to advocating aggressive pandemic-related oversight and meaningful investigation of the damage Trump caused to governing institutions and the civil service– our case has rested on a set of core observations:

Good Policy

Oversight has long been considered an essential component of congressional power and for good reason. In order to craft laws and continually institute necessary reforms, lawmakers need access to a wealth of information about the problems for which they seek solutions. Oversight also functions as a mechanism by which to enforce congressional will; investigatory powers help Congress to ensure that the laws it has written and passed are being carried out as intended.

Where voluntary compliance is not forthcoming, Congress has a variety of legal powers to ensure that it has access to the information it needs. Together with its considerable reputational and convening authority, these powers make Congress one of the most powerful fact finding institutions in the country. We at Revolving Door Project have consistently encouraged lawmakers to make use of this exceptional power to surface otherwise out of reach information about the Trump administration’s actions and corporate America’s behavior. Despite this administration’s unprecedented obstructionism, Congress nonetheless has the ability to obtain great swaths of information that are unavailable to almost any other party. 

Even when investigations do not lead directly to legislative action in the near-term, they may still produce clear real world results. It is not uncommon for both public and private sector officials to resign following appearances at particularly humiliating congressional hearings. Further, the very knowledge that Congress is investigating may discourage lawbreaking in the public and private sectors alike. 

Good Politics

For those lawmakers unconvinced by these benefits, there is at least one other reason to engage in aggressive, populist oversight: it’s great politics. As money floods our political system and even more overt forms of governmental and corporate corruption abound, many have lost faith that anyone in government has their interests at heart. Oversight that holds powerful actors — like practically any of this administration’s senior officials, BigTech, for-profit colleges, Wall Street, and on and on — to account for their transgressions can help to reverse the tide of cynicism by demonstrating that the government can work in the public interest. 

It is also a particularly powerful tool in the face of a presidential administration like Donald Trump’s. While Trump utterly failed at the task of being president, he successfully commanded the conversation over his four years in office. By inundating the public with erratic statements and alarming, often violent actions, Trump made it difficult to keep up or to make sense of what was happening. Oversight, however, could have helped lawmakers to organize these chaotic elements into a single, commanding narrative: in this case, that Trump worked from his first day in office to enrich friends and benefactors while contemptuously stomping on everyone else. 

Oversight in Trump’s Wake

Although Trump’s time in office has come to an end, there is an enduring need for oversight to uncover the full extent of the damage he caused. Although Trump waged many of his wars in public, lawmakers cannot ignore the possibility that other attacks were being carried out more quietly behind the scenes. Whether in the form of politicized hiring processes, corruptly awarded contracts, office reorganizations, or any number of other moves, left unaddressed this variety of attack could interfere with effective governance for years to come. 

For that reason, it will be essential that lawmakers resist the urge to simply move on from what has just occurred under Trump. Only by developing a comprehensive accounting of his administration’s abuses will it be possible to reverse them and ensure that they are not repeated. And for every Republican who cries that it is “politics” to identify new ways in which Trump’s corruption and incompetence weakened our country — if the facts have a political bias and the outcome is to punish a political party for its leader’s misdeeds, well, isn’t accountability what it is needed to make democracy work?

And if this means that the Biden Administration is on its toes to avoid repeating the post-presidency recriminations Trump is owed — that would be a nonpartisan good thing!

Below you will find some of the project’s writing and research on congressional oversight. For a selection of quotes and interviews on the topic, please visit this page.

December 07, 2022 | Revolving Door Project Newsletter

Hannah Story Brown


ClimateCongressional OversightDefenseDepartment of Justice

Pipeline Permits, Border Walls, and the Nightmare at Red Hill

Simply put, we would ask for more rigor from the wonks who would like a say in how we redesign America’s energy systems. The challenge is massive, yes: to better serve more people with more efficient, less wasteful, less toxic energy infrastructure, while restraining the human footprint on the planet, so that other forms of life can also thrive. But it is also an energizing challenge, and eminently worthy of human effort. Any theory of climate change mitigation that is inflexible and unimaginative enough to involve bulldozing those who stand in its way is just another partial paradise, a green veil thrown over the same extractive relationships that got us here. 

November 23, 2022 | The New Republic

Timi Iwayemi Dylan Gyauch-Lewis


Congressional OversightcryptocurrencyFinancial RegulationIndependent Agencies

Don’t Fall for FTX’s Final Con

The FTX disaster should be all the impetus needed to kill off any new crypto industry–approved legislation. Instead, we need Congress to provide material support for financial regulators in the form of increased appropriations to guard against the next collapse. Much of the crypto industry is already subject to laws—the very ones that the SEC seeks to enforce and that the crypto industry broadly (not just Sam Bankman-Fried) seeks to evade by reducing the SEC’s jurisdiction ex post facto. Both the CFTC and SEC urgently need funds to fulfill their mandates. Crypto stretches these needs even further, but the need has existed for years. For decades, financial crimes have too often gone unpunished. This wasn’t for a lack of rules, but a lack of will, funds, and people willing to enforce them. Crypto doesn’t need special treatment, it needs to face the music.

October 31, 2022

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

Congressional OversightDepartment of Homeland SecurityDepartment of JusticeEthics in Government

A Crisis Of (Un)Accountability: Amidst Profound Political Cruelty, Ethics Matter More Than Ever

The news was flooded in September with images, reports, and increasingly abhorrent context for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ trafficking of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. DeSantis’ actions, and those of his aides, are of course potentially illegal, as was asserted by a Texas sheriff who opened a criminal investigation into the spectacle. This latest sadistic political posturing came at the cost of real people fleeing real persecution, but there is also a crucial piece of this awful puzzle that hasn’t been fully explored. Why did Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents, funded by federal dollars, allegedly forge documents for migrants knowing (even if the migrants themselves didn’t) that their flights were not destined for the locales DHS agents made their immigration proceedings beholden to?

August 19, 2022 | The American Prospect

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal Hannah Story Brown


Congressional OversightEthics in GovernmentExecutive BranchGovernanceRevolving Door

Where Has Congress Been on Trump Holdovers?

The public hearings conducted by the House Select Committee have exceeded many Democrats’ expectations, not only as conversation-changing political theater, but also as a venue to uncover vital information. For example, the country now knows that Secret Service text messages from January 6th were deleted from phones shortly thereafter in what the agency has called a “planned migration.” This is what congressional oversight activities should do: extract truths from the halls of power and pursue public accountability accordingly.

August 04, 2022 | The American Prospect

Timi Iwayemi


Congressional OversightcryptocurrencyFinancial Regulation

Proposed Stablecoin Legislation Is Worse Than Nothing

Better still, the government could consider more aggressive action. Application of existing law would bring some stability to the stablecoin space, but there is one more simple and effective option: banning them outright. Stablecoins are an essential component of a deeply fraudulent industry that is financially and environmentally destructive. Guaranteeing their existence is an unnecessary risk.

July 29, 2022 | The American Prospect

Hannah Story Brown Glenna Li


Congressional OversightEthics in GovernmentIRSRevolving Door

It’s Past Time to Replace IRS Chief Charles Rettig

Earlier this month, The New York Times broke the story that former FBI director James Comey and his former deputy director Andrew McCabe, both loathed and eventually fired by President Trump, also both underwent rare and intensive tax audits under the National Research Program, which studies tax compliance and calculates the “tax gap” (the difference between legally owed tax and what is actually paid). Out of around 154 million annual tax returns, the National Research Program selected just 5,000 tax returns in 2017 and 8,000 in 2019 to audit. Neither man knew the other had undergone the same audit until a Times reporter told them.