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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.

The 2021 Winter Term Washington Experience: US Congressional Oversight in Action (UAP 4624 - CRN: 40353 and PSCI 4624 - CRN: 40354) is a 3-week, 3-credit seminar designed to introduce Virginia Tech students to the politics and practice of congressional oversight. This seminar immerses participants in the D.C. ecosystem of professionals, creating opportunities for students to interact with policymakers in executive branch agencies, think tanks, associations, lobbyists, news media, and congressional offices focused on government oversight and accountability. 

Fully Online Program for 2021

In response to the pandemic, Congressional Oversight in Action 2021 Winter Term seminar will move online. This Winter Term seminar will meet via Zoom weekdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, December 28, 2020 to Friday, January 15, 2021.

Students will engage with experts across a wide variety of organizations and agencies; participate in lectures, seminars, and mentoring; and collaborate with other students on an original research project and congressional briefing. The online format will offer the same intensive learning experiences and personal engagement with policymakers that have characterized the seminar experience in previous years in a virtual format that will not require relocating to the DC-area for three weeks.

The Washington Experience 2021 seminar (UAP/PSCI 4624) will meet online in synchronous seminar sessions from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. weekdays, Monday, December 28, 2020, to Thursday, January 14, 2021. Daily synchronous (or live) video sessions will include lecture, seminar, and a series of meetings with policymakers. The seminar will be organized around dimensions of congressional oversight, from congressional committee hearings and oversight institutions like the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general (IG) to the oversight laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Whistleblower Protection Act. 

The last two Washington Experience seminars coincided with a weeks-long government shutdown (2018-19), a presidential impeachment (2019-20), and other events that will alter the “rules of the game” in congressional oversight for years to come. Based on the outcome of the November 2020 elections, this year’s seminar also will meet against an historic backdrop. 

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.

  • Here is a list of participating Washington D.C. organizations in 2020.

Washington Experience Winter Term 20-21

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.