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Government by Investigation

Government by Investigation: Congress, Presidents, and the Search for Answers, 1945–2012

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 316
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Government by Investigation
    Book Description:

    Paul C. Light examines and evaluates the 100 most significant investigations of policy failures, bureaucratic mistakes, and personal misconduct undertaken by the U.S. federal government between 1945 and 2012. Launched by Congress or the president, sometimes by both at the same time, the investigations at the core of this book were driven by the search for answers about significant breakdowns in government performance. Light reveals which investigations were most effective, and why.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2269-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE Introducing the Search for Answers
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is about the 100 most significant investigations of government between 1945 and 2012. All of the investigations were designed to fix a breakdown in a government performance.

    In an ideal investigatory world, all 100 investigations would have asked every possible question, assessed every possible answer, and fixed the breakdown once and for all. But in the real world covered by this book, one group of investigations asked most of the questions, assessed the available answers, and mostly fixed the breakdown, while a second group muddled through to minimal effect. This book is designed to explain the differences.


  5. TWO Counting Investigations
    (pp. 11-55)

    Each of the 100 investigations covered in this book left its own mark on history and followed its own path to impact or irrelevance. If not absolutely unique, each investigation nevertheless created its own story, including some that became the grist of Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winners, not to mention ongoing speculation on what really went wrong.

    Each investigation had its own timeline, for example. Some lasted for years, as investigators scoured the country looking for plots against the nation such as communist infiltration of government, illegal lobbying, or China’s theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, while others moved quickly...

  6. THREE Creating Footprints
    (pp. 56-125)

    The mere announcement of an investigation can create the promise of significance, including a measure of deterrence based on fear and foreboding. This spark often follows a highly visible government breakdown and the engagement of a well-known investigator such as Jack Brooks, Barney Frank, Frank Church, Tom Davis, Robert Dole, Sam Ervin, John Glenn, Lee Hamilton, Charles Grassley, J. William Fulbright, Tom Kean, Herbert Hoover, Estes Kefauver, Carl Levin, George Mitchell, Warren Rudman, Brent Scowcroft, Donna Shalala, John Stennis, Harry Truman, or Henry Waxman.

    The early moments of an investigation also begin creating the “footprint” of the effort based on...

  7. FOUR Making Investigations Count
    (pp. 126-190)

    Even though advocates occasionally use terms such as “constructive” to describe the good investigation, their focus has long been on how investigations should work, not on whether investigations actually improve government performance.

    Investigations done right have inherent value, however. They thicken the legislative record for judicial interpretation, identify vulnerabilities and breaking points, help solve the delegation dilemma, strengthen constitutional checks and balances, create credible deterrence against misconduct, make the case for a watchful eye on process, policy, and conduct, and may even increase public trust in government. Done poorly, however, they undermine the faithful execution of the laws, demean the...

  8. FIVE Creating High-Impact Investigations
    (pp. 191-216)

    A central lesson of this book is that investigations can be very well done, but not have a significant impact on government performance. Moreover, even when doing it right matters, not all aspects of the good investigation carry equal weight in repairing or preventing a breakdown. Visibility is no doubt a valued investigatory goal, for example, but has little bearing on impact. Neither does complexity, seriousness, thoroughness, or even bipartisanship. An investigation can meet almost every test of “doing it right,” yet still fall short. Absent durability, failure is almost guaranteed.

    Moreover, even high-impact investigations can be works in progress....

  9. APPENDIX A Interview Respondents
    (pp. 217-220)
  10. APPENDIX B Sources
    (pp. 221-224)
  11. APPENDIX C Investigation Résumés, 1945–2012
    (pp. 225-248)
  12. APPENDIX D Supporting Statistical Analysis
    (pp. 249-268)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 269-302)
  14. Index
    (pp. 303-316)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 317-317)