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Holding agencies accountable: Exploring the effect of oversight on citizens’ approval of members of Congress

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 June 2019

Susan M. Miller
University of South Carolina, USA E-mail:
Alexander I. Ruder
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, USA E-mail:


We seek to understand the incentives facing Congress members to hold executive agencies accountable. Specifically, we explore whether Congress members are rewarded for taking politically costly oversight actions. We evaluate the effect of oversight activities on citizens’ evaluations of Congress members, taking into account the member’s partisanship, the citizen’s partisanship and agency ideology. Using a survey experiment, we find evidence that citizens’ evaluations of members are affected by the members’ oversight activity, with both copartisan and cross-party members rewarded for oversight efforts. Politically costly actions against ally agencies, however, do not appear to be rewarded to a greater extent by copartisans. These results provide insight into the way in which citizens interpret oversight activities by Congress members, suggesting that while good governance actions hold value for citizens, costly oversight actions aimed at ally agencies are not rewarded by copartisan citizens more than politically expedient oversight actions.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2019.

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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Open Market Committee, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, or others in the Federal Reserve System.


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