In late March, I was invited to be a presenter at the first state-level “Oversight Boot Camp” organized by the Levin Center at Wayne Law. You might recall that I was the first recipient of the Carl Levin Award for Effective Oversight in November of 2018. The award was part of the Levin Center’s Oversight Summit in Washington, D.C.
The reason I was to be in Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in this event was that the now-chairman of the Pennsylvania House Oversight Committee had seen the award ceremony, my remarks, and my interview with Sen. Carl Levin on CSPAN, and immediately started to work on their own oversight regime.
In truth, they had gone to our website and were so impressed with our Rules and Standard Practices, they based their committee on our protocols.
I was greeted in Harrisburg by Elise Bean, co-director of the Levin Center and long-time staff member for Sen. Levin and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. She is an oversight and accountability pro.
The other presenter for the event was Andy White, a research scholar at NYU Law, former law professor, former associate White House Counsel for President Obama, and a former senior staff member of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Interestingly, Andy and I had both done our undergraduate work at Washington and Lee, albeit, a few years apart.
My presentation started with a quote from President Woodrow Wilson in his doctoral dissertation: “As important as legislation, is vigilant oversight of administration.”
It was followed by how we set up our process after passing the oversight legislation in 2012 – how we mandated the highest level of transparency, not only regarding the oversight functions, but also with all aspects of the committee.
We also mandated that our structure and practice would educate the public about our state boards, agencies and commissions with a single set of facts.
These facts would not be Republican or Democratic, or alternative facts. There would be a single set of reality-based, measureable, taxpayer facts, which could be used to better serve all our constituents.
The event, by all accounts, was an undiluted success, especially so after reviewing the comments from participants. I was particularly heartened by the fact that, after some initial reservation from minority party participants, that we made our case for the effectiveness of a cooperative, bipartisan, fact-based, legislative oversight, not only to address administrative problems within boards, agencies and commissions, but also as a process that might disarm some of the hyper-partisanship that is eroding the very foundations of our democracy.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov