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Legislative Branch Support Agencies: What They Are, What They Do, and Their Uneasy Position in Our System of Government

Legislative Branch Support Agencies: What They Are, What They Do, and Their Uneasy Position in Our System of Government

Chapter:
(p.128) 8 Legislative Branch Support Agencies: What They Are, What They Do, and Their Uneasy Position in Our System of Government
Source:
Congress Overwhelmed
Author(s):
Kevin R. Kosar
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226702605.003.0008

Legislative branch support agencies have existed for more than a century, yet they remain remarkably little known to the public and are only occasionally studied by scholars. Here, the term “legislative branch support agencies” includes the Congressional Budget Office, Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, and the defunct Office of Technology Assessment. Generally, their job is to assist legislators in the execution of their legislative duties. Unlike the officials they serve, legislative branch support agency employees are civil servants—unelected persons—and it is not their duty to engage in politics or make policies. These agencies’ manifold activities are both formal (e.g., scoring the approximate cost of legislation) and informal (e.g., responding to requests for research assistance from legislators and their staff). Congress established legislative branch support agencies precisely because it needed assistance in various aspects of its work. Legislative branch support agencies, therefore, have a key role in augmenting congressional capacity, and are of real aid to legislators and their staff. Yet, ironically, they occupy uneasy positions in the American system of government. In recent decades, Congress has cut the size of some of the legislative branch support agencies, and rebuked them for issuing research that offended political sensibilities.

Keywords:   congressional capacity, Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, Congressional Budget Office, Office of Technology Assessment, legislative branch, oversight, congressional staff, Congress

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