by Jim Toes, STA President & CEO
What do UFOs, LIV Golf, artificial intelligence, and IRS whistleblowers all have in common? They are just a few of the subjects addressed in the more than 1,000 congressional hearings held in 2023 thus far. While the number of congressional hearings held each year can vary widely, depending on factors such as legislative agenda, issues requiring oversight and the political climate, the 118th Congress is on pace to be one of the busiest on record.
For most of us, these hearings can be frustrating to watch. The amount of political grandstanding and filibustering that occurs can leave the average person exhausted – and the fact that few result in a new law causes one to become disinterested in the entire process. Having said all this, congressional hearings play an essential role in promoting democratic principles, accountability and public engagement, and are more than just a distinctive feature of the US government. The frequency and openness of these hearings, combined with their unique scope and powers, distinguishes the US government from all other countries and serve to protect, We the People.
For congressional members, hearings remain an essential part of the legislative process because they allow for lawmakers to gather information useful in their decision-making. For US citizens, open hearings on policy matters allow us to witness elected officials in action and listen to expert testimony firsthand. This level of accessibility underscores the principles of transparency into the legislative process and public engagement.
Equally as important, hearings are a vehicle for congressional members to fulfill their oversight responsibilities. Congressional committees have significant powers of investigation, including issuing subpoenas, compelling witnesses to testify under oath, and accessing sensitive documents – all required tools for achieving accountability and providing public awareness.
While other countries may have their own forms of legislative scrutiny, the scale and visibility of US congressional hearings is unparalleled. We do ourselves a disservice when we fail to appreciate this powerful mechanism that citizens in other countries would welcome the opportunity to have.