How Congress and Federal Leaders Can Work Better Together

As the 114th session of Congress begins, we turned to two former legislators for greater insight into how congressional leaders and the federal leaders could work more effectively together. Olympia Snowe, a former Republican senator from Maine, and Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas and secretary of agriculture, are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Political Reform. Their commission focuses on finding ways to overcome the polarization and gridlock in Washington.

Snowe and Glickman spoke with me for On Leadership, about the relationship between Congress and executive branch agencies during this time of extreme partisanship. I am a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Is Congress doing a good job overseeing the work of the executive branch?

Snowe: Oversight activities are an extremely critical role for members of Congress. To the degree that their hearings are used for improving agencies and programs, it becomes an effective function. If it's just for politicizing a message, that obviously becomes a different question. I often describe these hearings as a road to nowhere when they are used to highlight the politics of the problem rather than how to solve the problem. So it really depends.

Glickman: I was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for six years during the Clinton administration, so I participated in these oversight hearings, which at the time were somewhat distracting. But they were very important. While this administration hasn't liked it, Congressman Darrell Issa has been fairly tenacious and effective, and Congressman Jason Chaffetz seems to be taking that role on as well. Former Senator Carl Levin and former Congressman John Dingell also were role models for effective committee oversight of administration policy.

Often times, members of Congress do not appreciate the power that they have. They really need to exercise those authorities aggressively because, otherwise, administrations can run over the Congress. The best oversight is having an objective non-partisan review of administration activities. Partisan witch hunting creates ill will and rarely accomplishes anything of value.

This post was originally featured on the Washington Post's website.