Information Transmission in Congressional Hearings


(Link to draft.) Congressional hearings give legislators a national stage on which to score political points by publicly chastising high-level bureaucrats, and gives lobbyists a forum to demonstrate their access and importance to policymakers. But how well do they serve the purposes of oversight? Whether they serve their nominal function, enabling oversight by revealing useful policy information, remains in doubt. I address this question by directly examining the content of hearings from the 105th − 112th Congresses. Through automated text analysis methods, I measure the language specificity of the actors in the hearing in order to quantify the transmission of information between legislators and agency witnesses. My structural econometric model of hearings, predicated on the canonical Crawford and Sobel (1982) signaling game, indicates that increasing ideological distance between congressional committee chairs and executive branch witnesses decreases the amount of information revealed. The oversight function of hearings is thus only effective when it is least likely to be used: when the congressional committee and the bureaucrat (as representative of the president) agree on policy. In addition to providing insight into a longstanding question about whether hearings serve as effective oversight, this paper demonstrates the value of a new, but widely applicable technique for quantifying the informativeness of communication, a central concept in the study of political information and knowledge.

Author: Ian Palmer Cook

Dissertation, Executive, Formal Theory, Information, Legislative   :   October 9, 2015 12:02 AM  :  read more »

About the Author

Ian P. Cook is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying American Politics. He has also been a researcher with the RAND Corporation. No material on this site implies endorsement by either institution.