One problem in recent years, Aberbach says, is that political control in both chambers has been centralized within the leadership, depleting the authorities of committees. “You have to have realistic expectations of Congress — it’s a political body,” he said. “But if you draw power away from the committees, you lose the expertise that they have, and that’s certainly been a problem recently.”
To illustrate the decline, Aberbach counted oversight hearings in the House and Senate, excluding those by the appropriations committees, for the first six months of 1983 and 1997. He found steep reductions in both chambers: from 782 hearings in the House in 1983 to 287 hearings in 1997, and from 439 hearings in 1983 in the Senate to 175 hearings in 1997.