Unelected oversight : the politics of government investigations and problem monitoring
How do elected officials and top decisionmakers receive information about the problems encountered in government agencies? Policymaking and agenda setting research primarily examines how elected officials directly gather information through mechanisms like oversight hearings or from outside interests. In this dissertation, I build on existing research by examining how agenda setting and problem identification take place in an oversight context with a specific focus on unelected means including bureaucrats themselves, Offices of Inspectors General, and the Government Accountability Office. In doing so, I extend and clarify existing theories of oversight, agenda setting, and problem identification to highlight three important but underappreciated and understudy sources of expert information. First, I consider oversight within public organizations performed by civil servants. Using survey data, I find that bureaucrats with greater knowledge of internal oversight processes and public service motivation are more likely to identify problems in their agency. Second, I consider the monitoring agendas of federal Offices of Inspectors General using an original dataset of reports. My findings suggest that OIGs monitor a greater variety of issues with larger budgets and when signals in the political environment become more diverse. Third, I use a new dataset of all Government Accountability Office reports from 1974-2018 to examine how Congress steers their auditing agenda, noting that it reflects a desire for information on technical agencies but still reflects members' political concerns in relation to individual agencies and the president. Taken together, these findings advance our understanding of oversight and accountability by demonstrating how unelected administrators and specialized organizations monitor and identify problems that undermine the effectiveness of government programs.
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