Lesson Plan: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

Constitutional Foundations for Congressional Oversight

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) spoke about the constitutional basis for congressional oversight and the different forms that it might take.


Congressional oversight is the power of the legislative branch to review, monitor and supervise the actions of the federal bureaucracy. This lesson provides an overview of this congressional power and how it is used to as a check on the executive branch. Students will apply their knowledge of congressional oversight to examples of congressional hearings.



    Have the students answer the following questions before beginning class:

    • What is meant by checks and balances?
    • How can Congress limit the power of the executive branch?

    Review the students' answers to the warm-up questions and address any misconceptions about checks and balances. Introduce the concept of congressional oversight by having the students answer the view the following video clips and answering the questions listed below. Students can also access these videos and questions using the handout.

    HANDOUT: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP 1: Constitutional Basis for Congressional Oversight (4:30)

    • What is meant by congressional oversight?

    • Explain the constitutional basis for congressional oversight. How is this supported by Supreme Court rulings?

    • What forms does congressional oversight take?

    • How can the executive branch push back on congressional oversight efforts?

    • What is a subpoena? When is it used?

    • What is the purpose of congressional oversight?
  • VIDEO CLIP 2: The Purpose of Congressional Oversight (2:06)

    • What four questions are usually asked when Congress conducts oversight?

    • Explain the obstacles that Congress faces when conducting oversight.

    After reviewing the previous videos with the students. Have the students view the video clips of the examples listed below and use the handout to take notes. This can also be adapted as a jigsaw activity. Students should address the following elements when taking notes.

    HANDOUT: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch (Google Doc)

    • Summarize the topic of this hearing and who is involved.

    • How is this an example of congressional oversight of the executive branch?

    • What tools is the Congress using to conduct this oversight?

    • For what purpose is Congress conducting oversight on this issue?

    After viewing the video clips and completing the chart, have students use examples from the videos to answer the following question in a written response:

    • Is congressional oversight effective at checking the executive branch? Why or why not?

    Contemporary Controversy- View the following video clip about the House Judiciary Committee's vote to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt for not providing documents subpoenaed by the Committee. Have the students discuss or provide a written answer to the following prompt:

    Video Clip: Reactions to the House Judiciary Committee Contempt of Congress Vote (3:45)

    • Should executive branch officials be forced to comply with congressional subpoenas?

    Oversight Research- Using the C-SPAN video library find and view a hearing that showcases the oversight function of Congress. Based on this provide the following:

    • Date of the Hearing

    • Summary of the topic

    • How this hearing is an example of congressional oversight

    • Your opinion on the effectiveness of this specific example of oversight

    Historical Analysis- Choose one of the following historical examples of congressional oversight and investigation. For your example, evaluate how effective Congress was at providing oversight on the executive branch. Was this an appropriate use of oversight? Support your claim with examples from the videos.


    • How is congressional oversight an example of checks and balances?

    • What is the role of congressional oversight in changing public opinion?

    • How can oversight of the executive branch be perceived as politically motivated?

    • In your opinion, can Congress overuse their power of oversight? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources


  • Accountability
  • Briefings
  • Bureaucracy
  • Check And Balances
  • Committee
  • Congressional Oversight
  • Congressional Staffer
  • Constituents
  • Constitution
  • Contractor
  • Diffused
  • Fraud
  • Hearing
  • Inherent
  • Inquiry
  • Investigation
  • Legislate
  • Mcgrain V. Daugherty
  • Separation Of Powers
  • Subpoena


Bureaucracy & RegulationExecutive BranchLegislative Branch


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