Committee Oversight Planning
Oversight plans, when they are connected with the Constitution, will quickly generate the right questions, and help focus the debate. The voters can review whether the leadership is focusing on the Constitution; and whether they are the right people to lead.
The Committee Oversight Plans could be structured to quickly compare the Constitutional requirements with where things are. When we have a simple picture, we can have a discussion of what needs to be done.
Let's focus on getting an agreement on where we need to go and where we are. Then we can have a discussion of what is getting in the way, what needs to be done to make progress, and how we're going to get there.
Case Study: House Judiciary Oversight Plan 110th Congress
I was looking at the plan wondering, "How is this plan used?"
In the "ideal world," a plan helps us go somewhere. It's like a goal. When we "get there" [wherever that it], we can (possibly) look back at our plan and answer:
___ Did we get to where we wanted to go?
___ Did we stay on track?
___ Did we have an idea of what to do if we were lost?
___ When did we get an idea that we needed to adjust?
In government, plans can be useful to evaluate performance of staff; and they can help people stay focused. They can also turn into paper-making exercises that create useless paper.
Then again, with the right leadership, a plan can help the leadership and the staff.
An Idealized House Judiciary Oversight Plan
Here are a few things that I thought might be of use, benefit, assistance to the Committee Staff, and the public.
[a] The plan would be helpful if it outlined the top concerns of the Committee Members.
[b] The plan would be helpful if there were some overarching principles, goals, or things that the Committee Hoped to instill in the hearts of the Executive Branch.
[c] The plan would be helpful if there were questions under each major sub-committee outlining the types of questions which the Executive Branch needs to focus on from a legislative perspective.
To avoid the "wasted paper-making exercise," a plan would be useful if it did something relative to some standards.
Ideally, the Article I Section 8 powers would be at the center of the debate, focus. More broadly, the Article I powers (plural, unlike the Executive's singular power), would be listed in a matrix, and the Subcommittee Committee Plan would link, be connected to, and somehow support, and show
1. The Committee Focus was in supporting specific Constitutional Goals
2. The Committee would make a notional scale from Zero to 100: No, we aren't able to meet this goal; to something that is satisfied Completely
3. The Committee would notionally list the major Congressional Powers; then make a relative ranking within each Committee to ask: "Where does this Committee Stand relative to the Powers We the People have delegated"
- Is the Power fully realized?
- What is getting in the way?
- What is the desired level of power being imposed?
- What level of power is being realized?
Ideally, there would be a sense of [a] where are we; and [b] where do we want to go.
Let's pretend that the 110th Congress has a notion of the where the Executive-Legislature-Judicial Powers lie in a triangle. Each of the branches has a notional sense of where their power is.
If we draw a line from the center of each side of the triangle, and connect it in the middle, we'll have something than looks like this:
Each of these lines represents the powers of the three branches.
Alone each of the scales, if we rotate them so they are horizontal, we would be able to determine which of the branches are where they are supposed to be.
The Question is: What is our plan to move the actual level of power Congress is asserting relative to the other two branches to its desired level?
I believe this question, when asked, would produce some interesting answers, and proactively look at the current power issues in Congress.
The experts on the Congressional Staff counsel know the problems with the Executive and Judicial Branches; and what the Congress does or doesn't need to do to maintain the desired power balance.
I believe this question would help support some interest, and possibly, more useful information that the public, Staff and Members of Congress on the Judiciary Committee might review and consider: If we implement this plan, are we linking our actions with what is desired in the Constitution; the intent of the Framers; and the goals of the voters expressed through the November 2006 election
Reconsidering this: What is our plan to move the actual level of power Congress is asserting relative to the other two branches to its desired level?
Then considering the Article I Section 8 powers, we can come up with some generalized things that apply to all the Subcommittees in the Judiciary Committee. We can get a notional sense of where things are; outline briefly the problems along each of these criteria; then focus some public-staff attention on these goals.
Looking backwards, as we review progress each month, we can get a sense of whether we are making progress is staying focused on these goals; and whether we need to adjust.
Conversely, this approach might be, if demonstrated as successful, useful for other committees; and also for the Executive Branch: Do they understand the intent of the Congress. They may not agree, and will, in all likelihood, oppose -- as the framers intended -- but the public will get sense that things are or are not moving forward from the mandate of November 2006, and 1789.
The Committee has the responsibility to meet the intent of the Framers in the Constitution. Each word, sentence, line, and principle in the entire Constitution can be linked with something on the House Judiciary Committee.
The basic question is: What does the Constitution intend for the Subcommittee to do; what does the Subcommittee plan to do; and how are we making progress.
Let's consider a simple chart. On one side are the standards in the Constitution. Take Article I Section 8. Going horizontally, we can draw a line, and make a chart with boxes. The vertical columns are the Subcommittees
SubA SubB SubC SubD . . .
------ ----------- ------------ ---------
Ideally, it would be helpful if there were a list of powers and duties the Subcommittee had; and then a list of the issues, and concerns relative to things that trace directly to the Constitution.
Using this approach, it's very clear
A. What the standard is
B> What the Committee Goals are
C. What the challenges are
D. A notional sense of where we are; where we are going; and whether we're on track
The error is to make an unrealistic goal. The good thing is to make a challenging goal that focuses effort, mobilizes the resources, and keeps people focus on an agreed to plan.
The oversight plan as it is what is going to be used.
The way forward is to consider what might be done to outline specifically: What are we trying to do; where do we stand; and how might we focus our attention on something we can agree is a desired goal.
There are other ways to do this. Indeed, the Committee Chairman has a private tracking system where he goes into detail his concerns; and has a sense of what he is attempting to accomplish.
The goal isn't to make anyone show cards they want to hide. The goal is to make sure that the cards we do show are useful to We the People. Given the right information on Committee Concerns, priorities, and recurring themes, the public will be in a position to evaluate:
A. Is the Committee focused on what we need to do;
B. What contributions, insight, or suggestions can I as a Member of the Public, provide to the Committee Staff
C. What inputs, ideas, or suggestions would be useful to achieve what objective
D. How can I focus my energy on doing something useful
E. Can I see that my research, interest, or time spent on an issue is contributing to something that we can agree is where We the People intend.
Let's try the above approach with this Article I Section 8 power: "To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;"
Sample Review Criteria:
A. Where do we stand?
B. What is getting in the way?
C. What are the challenges?
D. What is the plan to meet the desired state?
The objective isn't to create paper, but to paint a clear picture in the minds of the Staff, public, and Members of Congress:
1. This is where we are
2. This is what we want to focus on
3. This is how our action will move us to where we want to go
4. This is how we know we're making progress
Revisiting: "To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;"
What is getting in the way?
A. The President, not the Congress, has defined things
B. The President, not the Congress, is punishing offenses
C. The President, not Congress, is saying that Congress cannot do this
D. The Congress is agreeing that the President can do these things.
Revisiting: "To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;"
How is the problem surfacing?
A. Singing statements
B. Secret detentions
C. Lack of lawful punishment
D. Congress is not able to evaluate whether its definition of "punishment" is or is not being fully met
E. Personnel are transported to places where the President says Congress has "no power"; yet the same personnel -- since they are connected with US interests, contracts, agents, and Presidential orders -- cannot have it both ways: Saying they are going to do something to advance American interests; but then claim Congress has no say on how that activity is conducted relative to this power.
Taking this approach, the problem gets turned on its head. The "problem" isn't signing statements; but the opposite: The problem is the lack of focus on the Constitution, and a clear understanding that the Committee has a reasonable basis to be concerned with various issues.
My goal in writing this is to suggest that when we focus on the Constitution, and identify the specific things that Congress has as a power; then explore what is getting in the way, it's very easy to see the symptoms. The problem is simple: The President.
That's what the Subcommittee Needs to do: Mentally think through the Constitution as the starting-ending point; then accept where we are; and then look at what is getting in the way of what the Framers intended.
The common element is the President.
It's called leadership problem. The things above will show that the President isn't doing the tings that he should; and the Congress isn't physically mapping out the President's actions relative to the clear criteria.
It would please me if a summary chart were presented in the Well of the House; with a simple notion of "This is where we need to be; but this is what is getting in the way."
As you can see, what emerges is a pattern which tracks very closely to the US Code, jury instructions, rules of evidence, and the elements for each crime.
Once we start from the Constitution, and ask a simple question, what emerges is a list of problem areas that the President does not wish to accept.
The way forward is for the Congress, when it outlines its Committee Plans, to look at the list of factors and indicators for success, and ask the simple question: Would it not be better if we focused our attention on the Constitution; and lay the challenge before us?
I argue that reluctance of Congress to develop a useful Committee Oversight Plan has nothing to do with lack of vision or clarity: That vision is in the Constitution. The mandate is there: The Constitution.
The goal should be to look at the Constitutional requirements; then ask what is going to be done to meet that requirement.
The President has two options: He can cooperate; or he can be challenged. The problem of the Congress has been it is not making the President do the former, and refuses to do the latter.
It appears to me that when an oversight plan -- if it were useful -- were developed, and the Committee Goals were tracked relative to the Constitution, the problem quickly emerges.
I suspect the problem isn't with the argument of "we have other things to do", but the opposite: There has been no organized effort to go line by line through the Constitution at the Committee level to review the Committee Responsibilities; nor has there been a process to mentally sit down and ask the simple question: Given our goal is the express language in the Constitution, what is getting in the way, and what is to be done?
Until that Question is honestly answered, the Leadership isn't making a credible plan, but avoiding the needed planning, and in turn, not doing what We the People intended.
The voters want one thing: The Constitution, as it exists, to be fully protected. It would please me if the Oversight Plans started with the Constitution, and ended with the discussion of where do we go from here.
The goal is not to create paper, but to get people to focus on the issue: The Constitution.
I sense the problem is there is some leadership opportunities. They way forward is to kindly remind We the People there is a way to do this.
___ Start with the Constitution.
___ Look at each clause
___ Consider what is getting in the way of the intent of the Framers
___ Look for a pattern
___ Consider what must be done to meet the intent of the framers
___ What are your conclusions
___ We the People and the Congress can jointly discuss solutions to go from where we are to where we need to go.
I sense, when this approach is taken, it will be very easy to understand why various options have been taken off the table: It's some reluctance by some to do something that has not been vigorously done in open: An admission that something hasn't been done; and an acknowledgement that we're not sure.
Fine. That's a good place to start: Admitting where we are -- "we're not sure."
The plan is to get clarity, and make it clear to everyone: Things have change, we're focused don the Constitution, and this is what we need to do.
When the world sees this, and understands the logic, they'll see that the Congress is reasonably doing what it should.
IN the end, how the Congress resolves the issue is less important than starting the process: Looking at the standards; and openly discussing the issues, questions, and things which we need to focus on.
The President knows what he needs to do: Respect the Powers of the Congress. The President can either cooperate with what's in the Constitution; or he can be removed.
When the Congressional leadership Committee By Committee maps out the Constitution, and compares their Committee Interests in the Constitution, it will be easy to see the common problem.
The question for Congress is whether they want to do this approach haphazardly, or do it once, in a single committee, and directly confront the Problem.
Some can argue all day long about why something should or shouldn't be done. The problem is that in saying "this is how we will not solve this problem" the Committees have to back-step, and take remove other options. Taken to its logical conclusion, there is no basis to have a plan, because the natural consequences of any simple oversight, is a recognition of the problem: The President.
It's circular to argue the President cannot be challenged, and we must avoid certain issues; but then argue the opposite: We're going to have a plan, and implement it. All the Constitutional clauses, when fully examined and implemented, quickly reveal the problem: The President.
It is impossible to develop a credible Oversight Plan without quickly realizing the problem: The President.
The Question the voters have to ask daily is: Is this Congress starting from the Constitution, and looking at the issues; then understanding the problem.
It makes no sense for any Member of Congress to argue that they are leading, or providing contributions, when that contribution is not linked with specific Constitutional mandates; and they can show how their action is directly supporting Constitutional clauses.
Real planning means confronting the Constitution and answering: What is going on?
The debate is: "What is to be done?"
Planning isn't done with the intent of arriving at a pre-determined solution, but an established goal: The Constitution.
How we achieve that is less important than keeping the World Focus on the goal: Does everyone understand that the leadership has the most important thing in mind: The Constitution?
I sense the problem with the Congressional Oversight is not a lack of energy, talent, or experience. The issue is what would focus Americans, the Committees, and We the People on the common agenda; and jointly endorse a reasonable plan.
The details of the plan are not important; the importance is recognizing that the focus is not where it needs to be; but it can be remedied.
If the Committees in Congress jointly agree to start with the Constitution, they may find that it does, in fact, make sense to spend the time focusing on the important thing -- the Constitution -- in a single place: One hearing.
It doesn't make sense, in my mind, to have many differing hearings dancing around the same problem: The President.
Perhaps this can be brought up in the Well of the House; perhaps the Speaker can see the wisdom of embracing this approach and saying, "This is evidence the Congress is changing."
How the Congress does this is less important than accepting reality: We the People do not expect perfection, but we expect your best effort.
Time to start with the Constitution, look at what's getting in the way, and outline some common themes which We the People can get confidence the leadership is rising to the occasion, and deserves to be sent back to Washington DC in 2008 to continue.
The reluctance to impeach, in my view, is linked with the reluctance to plan and explore where we are relative to the Constitution. Perhaps the solution isn't to find a new President, but for the Congress to agree to do nothing.
That is fine. We the People will get to decide: Is that acceptable; or shall there be new leaders who can focus on the Constitution, and ask the right questions. Whether the President and others want to participate, respond, or do something else will be something the Voters can quickly understand. They did it in November 2006, as they always have.
We aren't going away, neither is the Constitution, and neither is this problem. We need a plan to focus on the standards in the Constitution; then outline directly the common questions and issues related to those standards; and remind the President this is what he needs to do. Until he complies, he's wrong; until the Congress confronts, it is wrong.
We the People are right, as is the Constitution.