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Washington Experience: U.S. Congressional Oversight in Action

Student visit Politico as part of the Washington Experience

Go behind the headlines.

For two weeks in January 2020, participants of the Washington Experience: U.S. Congressional Oversight in Action meet with and learn directly from the many varieties of professionals engaged in government oversight.
This two week-long winter session seminar immerses them into the D.C. ecosystem of professionals in government, think tanks, associations, lobbies, news media, and congressional offices.

Highlights from the 2020 Program

Working from SPIA’s new classrooms at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, the 2020 cohort met with more than 60 professionals representing 30 organizations — often traveling by Metro to offices across Capitol Hill, K Street, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, and Rosslyn. 

Here are a few highlights:

  • Participants attended a hearing of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress and Chair Kilmer recognized the Virginia Tech group in his introductory remarks and following the hearing Chair Kilmer and Vice Chair Graves met and took questions from Virginia Tech students.
  • At the Government Accountability Office, VT SPIA alumni organized mentoring sessions creating one-on-one encounters with GAO analysts investigating critical questions of government at the request of Congress.
  • Participants learned about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and open-records laws from investigative reporters from the Washington Post, Politico, and NBC News and oversight advocates at American Oversight and the National Security Archive.
  • Participants learned about inspectors general (IGs) from the experts who train them - and met with NASA’s IG and senior members of his staff. 
  • Participants attended a public symposium on congressional oversight hosted by SPIA at the VTRC in Arlington. During the event Friday, January 10, participants engaged with attendees from the Congressional Research Service, Congressional Management Foundation, Demand Progress, Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, Catholic University Law School, R Street Institute, Levin Center at Wayne Law, and other organizations.

Throughout the course students were challenged to put their curricular knowledge into action by examining how policy themes like transparency, partisanship, political power, public interest, and the role of the media operate in practice. Students used verbal and written reflection to observe, critique, generalize and develop next steps of inquiry. In their final assignments students produced a recommendation to a member of Congress for an investigative hearing into a topic in their area of choice. Final assignment examined topics like the role of artificial intelligence in defense operations, citizenship questions on the 2020 Census, college affordability, and oversight of the opioid epidemic. Congressional oversight is a robust and interdisciplinary field that provides students with a rich environment to pursue new knowledge, hone professional skills, and develop relationships that can lead to internships and employment in public policy careers.