The Problem: The COVID-19 pandemic exposed incompetence, abuses, and illegality in Wisconsin government, especially in the executive branch and school districts.
Policy Solution: While it has not been deployed in decades, Wisconsin state lawmakers have tools to conduct regular oversight investigations and hearings to hold bureaucrats and other government employees accountable when they usurp the legislature’s authority to set the state’s public policy decisions. Lawmakers can also use these tools to protect taxpayer dollars by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in state and local programs.
Authored by former Justice Dan Kelly, IRG released a comprehensive, first of its kind, manual for state lawmakers on how to conduct oversight on the executive branch and municipalities:
· The Executive Summary can be found here.
· The full Lawmaker’s Manual for Legislative Oversight can be found here.
The Big Picture:
1. The scandals and abuse of taxpayer dollars in Wisconsin have tarnished the Badger State’s reputation for good and efficient government. Consider:
a. 3 out of every 10 unemployment insurance payments, during the peak of COVID, were delayed by more than 70 days. (CROWE) Why was Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development so unprepared and perform worse than nearly every other state?
b. Wisconsin’s workforce shortage crisis is hindering small and large business growth. Employers cannot find workers, and some complain that UI recipients are ghosting job offers. What is the Department of Workforce Development doing to ensure UI recipients are not turning down jobs?
c. Wisconsin has received over $3.2 billion in COVID relief funding for K-12 education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 15% of it has been spent, including DPI only spending 5%. What is the plan for spending taxpayer money?
d. Milwaukee Public Schools, with the COVID relief funding, will receive a total of over $26,000 per student. How does MPS plan to spend this money? Why is MPS asking for more funding when it hasn’t spent the money the federal government has already allocated?
e. School closures in urban districts have dramatically deepened learning loss for countless children. How did school districts in Madison, Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Racine keep track of students during the school closures? How did they track attendance? What did DPI do?
2. The legislature has the duty to find out what happened, why taxpayer money was abused, and what went wrong.
3. But real oversight hearings are not committee hearings on legislation, informational hearings where lawmakers ask questions without knowing the answers, or inquiries to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau or Legislative Council.
4. IRG’s Lawmaker’s Manual for Legislative Oversight shows, step by step, how lawmakers can get answers, expose government waste, and ensure problems are fixed. We show lawmakers how to:
a. develop an investigation plan
b. select and depose witnesses before the committee hearing
c. draft questions that get the necessary answers
d. draft and enforce testimonial subpoenas
e. draft and enforce document subpoenas (instead of filing an open records request and waiting for a bureaucrat to decide what to produce and when)
Summary: Wisconsinites are, justifiably, asking who is responsible for finding out what is happening within government. And they want to know how we can hold our government accountable for these failures.
The answer to the first question can be found in the legislature’s authority to conduct oversight investigations — inquiries backed up by the power of subpoenas that can cut through the fog of political obfuscation to discover the source of the problem.
The answer to the second question lies in the legislature’s authority to conduct oversight hearings — to reveal the results of the investigations, to hold the proper people publicly accountable, and to drive events to a solution that will result in a more responsive government, as well as policies that promote human flourishing in communities all across Wisconsin.
IRG’s Lawmaker’s Manual for Legislative Oversight demonstrates how to:
· Discern proper topics for legislative oversight
· Draft authorizing resolutions
· Plan and conduct effective oversight investigations, including
o Maximizing the effectiveness of informal information-gathering techniques
o How and when to deploy formal information-gathering tools, such as depositions and demands for production of documents
o Procedures for authorizing, drafting, issuing, and serving subpoenas to ensure compliance with the legislature’s investigatory activities
o Plan and present persuasive oversight hearings
The Manual also explains how to:
· Identify areas in need of the legislature’s oversight
· Select the oversight function that will bring the greatest impact
· Employ subject-matter experts and consultants to:
o Prepare and execute productive investigations
o Draft examination outlines and question witnesses in depositions and hearings
o Develop a communications plan
The Manual contains an extensive appendix of material designed to make the exercise of oversight authority as effortless as possible while maximizing its effectiveness and productivity. It contains:
· Proposed legislative rules for oversight investigations and hearings
· An oversight checklist that helps organize and track the progress of the investigation and hearing
· A sample investigation plan
· Customizable subpoenas for:
o Production of documents
o Testimony at a deposition or hearing
Op-Ed by Justice Dan Kelly: MacIver Institute: Curiosity and Oversight
Listen to Justice Kelly explain all about the manual on these radio shows: