Evolution and Expansion of Authority
Through evolution, Congress has expanded its interests and
activity into many national areas of concern. The execution of national
defense, a responsibility of the executive branch, is a prime example. From
its constitutional powers, Congress grants approval and money for defense
programs ranging from manpower levels, to numbers of army divisions and navy
carrier battle groups and which weapon systems are produced. This power has
been a natural extension rather than an intrusion — of congressional authority
concerning fiscal and programmatic accountability of the executive branch.
That Congress has license for involvement in any or all defense
matters has been clearly evident in recent years. The license is called
oversight. Oversight is a year-round review, reporting and funding control
umbrella through which congressional committees monitor federal agency
activities and assert increasing influence and management of defense issues.
This is in addition to the authorization and appropriation power Congress
exercises annually. The foundation of this control umbrella is information.
Information in Washington is power, and Congress employs a multitude of
mechanisms to gather, process, and use it.
Congressional assertion of authority in national defense has
been cyclical throughout the years. Primarily depending upon the counter role
exerted by the executive branch and emanating from the early 1970s. This
follows a period of a strong, activist executive role, and exacerbated by
weaknesses in the executive branch during the Watergate era and the attendant
jurisdictional problems of the Vietnam War.
In its assumed role, because of real and perceived abuses in
weapons acquisition, Congress has felt the need to direct the Department of
Defense (DoD) to change course or accelerate its efforts to tighten and
improve internal procedures. Thus, in recent years the results of enacting
significant laws are new regulations and organizations to manage defense
Oversight begets oversight at all
levels; no management level wants unexpected surprises by lacking knowledge
of activity. Consequently, the DoD acquisition manager (AM) is under
increased scrutiny. They must maintain scrupulous records, be the subject of
unsolicited questioning, must make frequent schedule and funding
adjustments, and must continuously advocate his program. Whether this
increased congressional involvement accomplishes its purposes efficiently,
timely, and in a businesslike manner is open to conjecture. Nevertheless, it
is a fact of life.
This expanded authority of Congress has had cascading effects
throughout the acquisition community.