We host regular events, both virtually and in-person, on important oversight and public policy topics of the day. We bring together lawmakers, scholars, policy experts, activists, community organizers, journalists, and attorneys to discuss the conduct of oversight across a wide range of issues, including: disaster response, criminal justice reforms, oversight of government contracts, or how oversight can be conducted in the digital marketplace. Join us!
Join our future events
Look through our events calendar for upcoming panels and presentations and join us!
Watch our fascinating discussion with former Senators Bill Cohen, Norm Coleman, and Claire McCaskill on how congressional committees work toward factual consensus in oversight investigations.
For our democratic system to work, our leaders, institutions (both public and private), and citizens need to value facts and truthfulness. In recent years, however, we have witnessed mass disagreements over what is true and how to separate fact from fiction. We’ve also learned the consequences can be deadly. The Levin Center is sponsoring a three-part series of panels to delve more deeply into how facts become established in the public mind and how truthfulness might be restored to our public discourse.
Our second panel featured three former senators with years of oversight expertise. They discussed the unique role played by Congress in resolving factual issues confronting the country, how committees conduct factual investigations, how committee members attempt to reach consensus on the facts, what happens when they can’t reach consensus, and how investigative hearings and reports affect public perceptions of what is true. They also provide interesting commentary on factfinding by the House committee examining the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
- Kenneth Lowande, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan
- Devin Judge-Lord, Post-Doctoral Researcher and Environmental Fellow, Center for the Environment, Harvard University
- Claire Leavitt, Visiting Assistant Professor, Grinnell College
Properly administered election audits are one of the most important tools states can use to improve voter confidence and election security. In 2020, however, state legislatures in multiple states used audits for the opposite goal of undermining the public’s faith in elections and the electoral results themselves. Watch our panel discussion as representatives from the Brennan Center for Justice and the R Street Institute discuss the audits that followed the last election cycle and explore options to strengthen oversight of our elections going forward. This virtual panel discussion is hosted by Wayne Law’s Voting Rights and Election Law Society and the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy.
- Matt Germer, Resident Elections Fellow, Governance Program, R Street Institute.
- Derek Tisler, Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice.
Download the Election Audit Report referenced in the panel discussion
“Oversight, Infrastructure, and Federalism: Ensuring Transparency, Accountability, and Effectiveness of U.S. Infrastructure Investments”
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 is poised to send billions of taxpayer dollars from the nation’s capital through the states to local communities to improve our roads, bridges, dams, broadband networks, electric vehicle charging stations, mass transit systems, and more. To ensure the success of these historic infrastructure investments, action must be taken to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and ensure the law lives up to its promise. On March 25, 2022, the Levin Center and Wayne State University Law Review held a one-day online symposium focused on meeting our infrastructure investment challenges and opportunities.
(Visit our symposium webpage for full bios of moderators and panelists and additional resources on infrastructure oversight.)
Welcoming Comments: U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI)
Panel 1:Establishing Mechanisms for Oversight of Infrastructure
Moderator: Beth Osborne – Director, Transportation for America
- Shruti Shah – President & CEO, Coalition for Integrity
- Lawrence (Larry) Goldenhersh – President, Center for Sustainable Energy
- Alexander (Alex) Beckmann – Senior Policy Advisor on Transportation and Infrastructure Issues, Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL)
Panel 2: Exercising Oversight of Infrastructure Performance
Moderator: Portia Bamiduro – Technical Adviser to Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, Amazon
- Elizabeth (Biza) Repko – Director for Physical Infrastructure, GAO
- Andrew (Andy) Doctoroff – Michigan Lead, Gordie Howe International Bridge Project & Adjunct Professor, University of Michigan Law School
- Joseph (Joe) Colaianne – General Counsel, Four Lakes Task Force
- John Sylvia – Director Performance Evaluation & Research Division, West Virginia State Legislature
- Build a culture of infrastructure oversight at the federal, state and local levels.
- Establish a committee of inspectors general, either modeled after the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) or by expanding the PRAC mandate, to coordinate federal infrastructure oversight, data, and analysis.
- Invest more in oversight capacity in the executive and legislative branches, at the federal and state levels, to enable more rigorous and timely investigations and reports.
- Build into federal and state laws, regulations, and practices up-front risk assessments, continuous auditing, and fraud detection.
- Build a public website that tracks spending under the IIJA and enables public and private sector analysis of government and contractor spending and performance.
- Expand up-front community involvement in infrastructure policy and projects, particularly in establishing project needs, scope, and design.
- Educate national, state, and local media about the IIJA to assist in media oversight.
Design & Practice
- Encourage states to be more specific about their infrastructure goals in planning documents and performance metric design. Encourage reviews of past state projections for congestion reduction, reliability, safety improvements, and repair to identify challenges and improve future projections.
- Monitor and critique performance of infrastructure programs, including formula-based programs, using agreed upon goals and criteria, including repair and safety.
- Enlist project owners, auditors, agencies, prime contractors, and lawmakers in executing different aspects of oversight of specific infrastructure projects.
Data & Measurement
- Require more timely availability of data on infrastructure condition, safety, and performance management results. Measure the movement of people and the performance of non-car transportation systems.
- For electric vehicle charging stations, create a national data warehouse, direct grantees and contractors to supply data on charger use, reliability, and performance, and ensure the data is collected and analyzed.
- Leverage technology and best practices from industry regarding useful performance criteria and methods for gathering infrastructure performance data.
- Provide training for state and local government personnel on project planning and cost estimation to enable effective reviews of contractor bids and make informed selections.
- Build oversight elements into infrastructure contracts requiring contractors to report performance data on a timely basis and cooperate with agency and auditor oversight.
- Build oversight costs into each contract.
- Provide state contracting officer and supervisor training on the collection and analysis of contract performance data (quality metrics, pay protocols tied to milestones, safety performance) and how to deal with subpar performance.
- Encourage or require cost estimates to be updated every 3 years.
Links and materials shared during symposium:
- Coalition for Integrity’s Oversight of Infrastructure Report
- Federal Highway Association – State Performance Dashboard
- Washington Post article from March 17, 2022: ‘Under federal rules, ‘significant progress’ on infrastructure can mean more road deaths and decrepit bridges’.
- Slides used by Biza Repko
- Slides used by Larry Goldenhersh
Watch Panel 1
Watch Panel 2
- Ben Eikey – State Training and Communications Manager, Levin Center
- Rehana Mohammed, Associate Director for Transparency, PRAC
- Lisa Reijula, Associate Director for Communications and Outreach, PRAC
- Levin Center 50 state study on legislative oversight: https://levin-center.org/state-lawmakers/oversight-in-the-50-states/
- Levin Center resources for State Lawmakers: https://levin-center.org/state-lawmakers/
- Levin Center resources for Congressional Lawmakers: https://levin-center.org/congressional-lawmakers/
- Levin Center blog on pandemic spending oversight: https://levin-center.org/2022/03/11/read-our-new-blog-post-and-join-the-webinar/
- PRAC slides: https://www.levin-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/PRAC-Presentation_Levin-15MARCH2022.pptx
- PRAC resources: https://www.pandemicoversight.gov/oversight
- PRAC resources: https://www.pandemicoversight.gov/oversight/reports?updated=&f%5B0%5D=report_type_taxonomy%3A123
- Portraits Landing Page: https://levin-center.org/oversightscholars/portraits/ (and all portraits accessible from the landing page)
- Senator Carl Levin: https://levin-center.org/about/carl-levin/
- Oversight Fellowship Program: https://levin-center.org/oversightscholars/oversightscholars-fellowship/
- Washington Post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/01/11/an-inane-squabble-with-dr-fauci-shows-problem-with-congressional-oversight/
- Jim Townsend – https://levin-center.org/about/center-staff/james-townsend/
- Jane Campbell – https://uschs.org/news-releases/a-new-leader-for-a-transformational-time/
- Norm Ornstein – https://www.aei.org/profile/norman-j-ornstein/
- Kate Scott – https://sce.cornell.edu/ciw/semester/faculty/katherine-scott
- Derek Musgrove – https://history.umbc.edu/facultystaff/full-time/derek-musgrove/
- Liette Gidlow – https://clasprofiles.wayne.edu/profile/bb2794
On November 8, 2021, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy hosted a conversation with the Deputy Secretary of Defense on how business and government can work together to drive innovation and enable the military to tackle climate change and other pressing issues.
Background on the Deputy Secretary:
- Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks is the 35th Deputy Secretary of Defense; she was sworn into that office on Feb. 9, 2021.
- In this role, Dr. Hicks serves as the chief operating officer of the U.S. Military in charge of day-to-day business across a nearly 3-million-person enterprise.
- Dr. Hicks is the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military.
- For more information, please view Dr. Hicks’ bio on the DoD pages.
- Doug Letter, House of Representatives General Counsel
- Michael Stern, Director, Point of Order Blog
- Kate Shaw, Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law
- Reginald Brown, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
Emergencies require a rapid government response, often with little time to screen vendors or review contracts. This sometimes leads to overpriced or mismanaged state contracts. How can state legislatures fulfill their oversight duties to scrutinize state contracts and protect taxpayers in an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic? Listen to state legislators from across the country discussing legislative oversight of contracts signed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The panel heard from three leading elected officials across the country, including
- State Senator Dan Johnson from Idaho,
- State Assemblymember David Chiu from California, and
- State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh from Nebraska.
This panel discussion was recorded on May 4, 2021 sponsored by the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy. It follows the Levin Center’s recent case study report on oversight of emergency contracts in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
On April 9th, 2021 the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy and the Wayne State University Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice jointly hosed a virtual panel discussion entitled “Corrections and Re-Entry: Legislative and Community Efforts for a Successful Transition after Prison“. The panel addressed questions of re-entry from prison to society, featuring legislative, academic, and community perspectives. How can a prisoner’s re-entry to the community better serve the interests and needs of both? be done successfully? What factors hinder or foster successful re-entry? What oversight efforts do state legislatures and agencies need to engage in to ensure re-entry programs fulfill their promises?
The panel heard from
- Michigan’s Legislative Corrections Ombudsman Keith Barber,
- Former Representative Joe Haveman from Hope Network, and
- Darryl Woods Sr., activist and returning citizen.
In March 2021, the Wayne State University Journal of Law in Society held it’s annual symposium in partnership with the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy. The Symposium was entitled “Opioid Paradigms: How Crisis Can Inform Change” and held three panels on three consecutive days addressing issues of access to addiction medical care, justice reforms as well as public health policy changes to tackle the opioid crisis.
Panel 1: “Access to Addiction Medical Care” – March 10, 2021
The panel explored the barriers that individuals with opioid and other substance use disorders face in accessing medical treatment for addiction. The discussion focused on what challenges people who have insurance face in accessing treatment, and why these challenges have not been successfully eliminated. The panel considered the limits of mental health parity, why insurers are incentivized to deny treatment, economic precarity within the insured opioid user population, and what state and federal policy options there are to change the existing incentives.
- Valarie Blake, Professor of Law at West Virginia University;
- Katherine Vukadin, Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law Houston;
- Taleed El-Sabawi, Assistant Professor of Law at Elon University; and
- Matthew Lawrence, Associate Professor at Emory School of Law.
Opening remarks were provided by Dean Richard Bierschbach, Wayne State University Law School.
Moderation was provided by Professor Lance Gable, Wayne State University Law School.
Panel 2: “Opioids and Emerging Justice Reforms” – March 11, 2021
This panel explored reforms in the criminal justice system in response to the opioid crisis, and addressed how those changes are connected to broader calls for change. As public and legal view of the crisis has informed policy, this has created multiple responses within the criminal justice system. Panel topics included how race informs drug sentencing, rural prosecution strategies and reforms, American cultural views of drug use, and emerging policies to address opioids and other drug crises more effectively and humanely.
- Jelani Jefferson-Exum, Professor of Law at the University of Detroit Mercy;
- Valena Beety, Professor of Law and Deputy Director of Academy for Justice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; and
- Brittany Kelly, Associate Director Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University.
Opening remarks were provided by Jim Townsend, Director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy.
Moderation was provided by Professor William Ortman, Wayne State University Law School.
Panel 3: “Policy and Public Health” – March 12, 2021
This panel addressed how opioid policy is connected to political and cultural narratives. It connected the healthcare and criminal arms of opioid policy by presenting a view of how political and public attitudes shape the ways we address problems legally and in other professional fields. Panelists discussed what creates counterproductive public narratives, and what kinds of structures and strategies lawyers and policymakers can use to move towards better thinking.
- Courtney Anderson, Associate Professor of Law Georgia State University;
- Robin Fretwell Wilson, University of Illinois College of Law Director of Institute of Government and Public Affairs; and
- Patrick Shannon, Chief Judge for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan.
Opening Remarks were provided by Ben Van Barr, Editor, Journal of Law in Society.
Moderation was provided by Veronica Walrad, Journal of Law in Society.
On January 22, 2021 Professor Emily Berman, winner of the 2020 Levin Center Award for Excellence in Oversight Research, presented her paper Weaponizing the Office of Legal Counsel (pdf) in an online lecture hosted by the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy.
This law review article examines the role of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in oversight matters, details how OLC opinions have been used to favor the Executive Branch over Congress in inter-branch oversight disputes, and reviews possible reforms to cure imbalances created by the citation of OLC opinions in court.
Emily Berman’s scholarship examines the unique separation-of-powers challenges that arise in the constitutional, statutory, and regulatory regimes governing national-security policy. She focuses in particular on ways to impose traditional conceptions of government oversight on law enforcement and intelligence operations. Professor Berman’s work has been published in top journals and her opinion pieces have appeared in JustSecurity, The Atlantic Online, the National Law Journal, Legal Times Online, and CNN.com.
The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy was invited to speak at the Council of State Government’s National Conference 2020. The session entitled “Strengthening the Role of Legislative Oversight” was hosted by the CSG West Oversight Working Group. The Levin Center presentation was followed by a panel discussion hearing from three different lawmakers in different states. The session was moderated by Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-CA).
Levin Center presentation:
- Jim Townsend, Levin Center Director
- Elise Bean, Levin Center Washington Office Director
- Ben Eikey, State Training and Communications Manager
- Assemblymember Dan Quart, New York State Assembly, Chair, Commission on Administrative Regulations Review
- Senator Sarah Elfreth, Maryland State Senate, Chair, Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review
- Senator Dan Johnson, Idaho State Senate
View the recording on the CSG website (no-cost registration required to view the recording)
The Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School and the Wayne Law Review hosted an online panel entitled “Congressional Oversight of the Digital Marketplace: Protecting Competition, Privacy and the Truth” on Thursday, October 29, 3:00 – 4:15 p.m. EDT.
The Zoom webinar discussed how Congress uses its oversight authority to oversee digital corporations raising antitrust, privacy, and disinformation concerns.
The panelists were:
Prof. Priscilla Regan, George Mason University, who provided an overview of over 50 congressional oversight hearings over the last 5 years examining privacy, disinformation, and competition issues raised by U.S. digital corporations.
Slade Bond, Chief Majority Counsel, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, who discussed that Subcommittee’s recent two year-long anti-trust investigation of major U.S. digital corporations (pdf).
Alyssa DaCunha, WilmerHale partner, who discussed representing digital corporations in a wide range of congressional oversight investigations.
Welcoming remarks were provided by Levin Center director Jim Townsend and Wayne Law Review editor William Broman.
This panel is part of a broader effort to examine congressional oversight of science and technology issues.
On September 24, 2020 from 12.15pm until 1.30pm, the Levin Center and the Damon J Keith Center at Wayne Law jointly hosted a virtual panel entitled, “Detroit Police Commission Past and Present: Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement in Historical Context.” The panel discussed civilian oversight of the police in Detroit over time, including creation of the Detroit Police Commission, its impact, and challenges today.
The Zoom webinar, which was live-streamed on YouTube to allow for wider audiences, heard from:
Senator Carl Levin for opening remarks
Avern Cohn – U.S. District Court Judge (ret.)
Evette Griffie – Police Commissioner (District 2)
Tawana Petty – Director, Data Justice Program, Detroit Community Technology Project
Welcoming remarks and moderation were provided by Levin Center Director Jim Townsend, while closing remarks were given by Professor Peter Hammer, Director of the Damon J Keith Center for Civil Rights.
On June 24, from 2:00 – 3:15pm, as part of a broader effort examining congressional oversight of science and technology issues, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy and the Wayne Law Review jointly hosted an online panel on congressional oversight of issues related to cybersecurity.
The webinar on the Zoom platform heard from:
Moderator: Prof. Fred Chang, Department of Computer Science Chair and Director of the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Southern Methodist University
Patrick Warren, Counsel, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), who discussed PSI’s cybersecurity oversight efforts, including its 2019 report on cyber vulnerabilities at 8 agencies.
Prof. Chris Bryant, University of Cincinnati, and Assistant Prof. Kimberly Breedon, Barry University School of Law, who discussed using congressional oversight to address conflicts of interest and cybersecurity issues related to voting systems.
Prof. M. Tia Johnson, Georgetown University Law Center, who discussed election cyber vulnerabilities, highlighting a 2018 report by the Congressional Task Force on Election Security.
Prof. Jonathan Lewallen, University of Tampa, who explored Congress’ use of information sharing requirements to evaluate cybersecurity vulnerabilities and performance.
Welcoming remarks were provided by Levin Center director Jim Townsend and Wayne Law Review editor William Broman.
On May 27, 2020, from 2:00pm-3:30pm, the Levin Center and Wayne Law Review at Wayne State University Law School held an online panel for scholars via the Zoom webinar platform on “Congressional Oversight Databases.” The panel highlighted three new and exciting databases that can be used to conduct research related to congressional oversight.
The panel of experts included:
- Daniel Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, who moderated the panel.
- Jamie Spitz, The Lugar Center, who discussed the Center’s new oversight database with over 20,000 congressional oversight hearings and individual committee evaluations.
- Molly Reynolds, The Brookings Institution, who discussed Brookings’ new real-time House Oversight Tracker following House oversight of the executive branch.
- Professor Jonathan Lewallen, University of Tampa, who discussed the long-standing U.S. Policy Agendas Project at the University of Texas, including its collection of over 100,000 congressional hearings from 1946 to 2017.
Introductory remarks were also provided by Levin Center Director Jim Townsend and Wayne Law Review Editor William Broman.
- See or download the panelists’ presentations (pdf)
- Watch the entire event
- Visit the Lugar Center Congressional Oversight Hearings Index [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org]
- Visit op-ed by the Lugar Center about its new database
- Visit the Brookings House Oversight Tracker https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/tracking-house-oversight-in-the-trump-era/]
- Visit the University of Texas Policy Agendas Project [comparativeagendas.net]
On January 24, 2020, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., from 9:00am-11:30am, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy held a half-day conference on emerging federal case law related to congressional oversight investigations. Four panelists with congressional oversight expertise spoke.
- Jonathan Adler, Johan Verheij memorial professor of law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
- Kirsten Matoy Carlson, associate professor, Wayne State University Law School
- Victoria Nourse, Ralph V. Whitworth professor in law, Georgetown University Law Center
- Andrew Wright, partner, K&L Gates LLP.
The panel moderator was Elise Bean, director of the Levin Center’s Washington Office. In addition, welcoming and closing remarks were provided by Levin Center director Jim Townsend.
On December 6, 2019, in the Capitol Visitors Center, from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m., the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy hosted a half-day symposium on how to strengthen Congress’ ability to oversee science and technology. The symposium highlighted two reports: “Building a 21st Century Congress: Improving Congress’ Science and Technology Expertise” by the Belfer Center and the recently released “Science and Technology Policy Assessment” by the National Academy of Public Administration. Following the presentation of the two reports, a panel of experts discussed their reactions to the reports and future options. A question and answer session followed.
9:00 a.m. Opening Remarks:
- Congressman Mark Takano
- Senator Tom Tillis (by video)
9:30 a.m. Presentation of Reports:
- Belfer Center: Laura Manley, Director, Technology and Public Purpose Project
- National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA): Roger Kodat, Senior Project Director
10:15 a.m. Panel Discussion:
- Moderator: Grace Gedye, The Washington Monthly
- Alex Givens, Director, Institute for Technology, Law, and Policy, Georgetown Law School, and former Chief Counsel for Senator Leahy on the Antitrust Subcommittee
- Peter Blair, Executive Director, National Academy of Sciences/Division of Engineering and Physical Sciences and former Assistant Director, OTA
- Tim Persons, Chief Scientist, GAO’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) office
- Ali Nouri, President, Federation of American Scientists
11:00 a.m. Question & Answer Session
11:25 a.m. Closing Remarks were provided by Levin Center Director Jim Townsend
On Friday, March 22, 2019, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, together with The Journal of Law in Society, held a symposium entitled “Gerrymandering: The Power of Boundaries” with to foster civil discourse on this matter of rapidly evolving public policy. Leading scholars from around the U.S. joined experts from Wayne State University to discuss partisan gerrymandering and race-based redistricting in a full-day event. Michigan’s newly elected Secretary of State and former Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson provided keynote remarks.
8:45 a.m. Opening remarks
- Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy; distinguished legislator in residence, Wayne Law
- Emad Hamadeh, editor-in-chief, The Journal of Law in Society
9:00 a.m. Keynote speaker
- Jocelyn Benson, Secretary of State of Michigan
9:45 a.m. Gerrymandering: Past, Present, and Future
- Jowei Chen, associate professor and faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan
- James Lancaster, chief counsel, Voters Not Politicians
- Eric Lupher, president, Citizens Research Council of Michigan
- Moderator: Justin Long, associate professor, Wayne Law
11:15 a.m. Race-Based Redistricting
- Guy-Uriel Charles, Edward and Ellen Schwarzman professor of law and director, Duke Law Center on Law, Race, and Politics, Duke University School of Law
- Aleks Kajstura, attorney and legal director, Prison Policy Initiative
- G. Michael Parsons, assistant professor, New York University School of Law
- Moderator: Rhonda Haidar, symposium editor, Journal of Law in Society
1:30 p.m. Political Gerrymandering and the U.S. Constitution
- Edward B. “Ned” Foley, Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold chair in constitutional law and director of Election Law @ Moritz, Moritz College of Law at Ohio State
- Nicholas Stephanopoulos, professor and Herbert and Marjorie Fried research scholar, University of Chicago Law School
- Daniel P. Tokaji, Charles W. Ebersold and Florence Whitcomb Ebersold professor of constitutional law, Moritz College of Law at Ohio State
- Steven Winter, Walter S. Gibbs distinguished professor of constitutional law, Wayne Law
- Moderator: Jonathan Weinberg, associate dean for research and faculty development, Wayne Law
3:00 p.m. Closing Remarks
- Rhonda Haidar, symposium editor, The Journal of Law in Society
- See photos from the event
- Watch the event highlights
- Watch part 1 of the C-SPAN coverage
- Watch part 2 of the C-SPAN coverage
- Read the news release
9:00 a.m. Opening remarks
Levin Center director Robert Ackerman, former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy and Wayne Law’s distinguished legislator in residence, and Inspector General Michael Horowitz of the U.S. Department of Justice
9:20 a.m. Panel 1:
- David Buckley, former inspector general, Central Intelligence Agency
- Kathy Buller, inspector general, Peace Corps; chair of the Legislation Committee for the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency
- DeLisa Lay, senior investigative counsel, majority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Jonathan Skladany, chief policy counsel, majority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
- John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction
- Moderator: Eleanor Hill, former inspector general, Department of Defense
10:45 a.m. Panel 2:
- Dan Blair, senior counselor, Bipartisan Policy Center
- Beryl Davis, director of financial management and assurance, Government Accountability Office
- Peter Tyler, senior policy analyst, Project on Government Oversight
- Moderator: Peg Gustafson, inspector general, Department of Commerce
11:45 a.m. Closing remarks by Linda Gustitus, co-director of the Levin Center Washington Office
On Friday, March 23, 2018, the Levin Center and Wayne Law Review held a symposium on “Congressional Oversight in the 21st Century.” Leading scholars from across the country explored the definition of congressional oversight and how best to measure its effectiveness, examined the relationship of oversight and the judicial branch, and discussed various tools and mechanisms involved in conducting fact-based, bipartisan oversight. The symposium took place at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.
This symposium was made possible, in part, by generous funding from the Cohn Family Endowed Fund.
- See photos from the event
- Watch the highlight reel
- Watch the opening remarks and Panel 1: Defining Congressional Oversight and Measuring its Effectiveness
- Watch Panel 2: Congressional Oversight and the Judicial Branch
- Watch Panel 3: Congressional Oversight: Tools and Topics and closing remarks
- Watch the keynote address: Steve Castor
- Read the news release
When conducted on a bipartisan basis, with a commitment to finding the facts and uncovering the truth, congressional oversight fulfills the checks and balances envisioned by the Constitution, fosters bipartisan legislative relationships, engenders public trust in legislatures, and improves policy and government programs.
In June 2017, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy hosted a Scholars Roundtable on Congressional Oversight. This event was the first of its kind in the United States, bringing experts from across the country to Detroit to encourage increased academic research into the legal, political and historical aspects of congressional oversight investigations, techniques and effectiveness, and its role in the constitutional system of checks and balances. The Wayne Law Review Symposium built upon the energy and momentum from that gathering.
Read the Levin-Bean law review article: “Defining Congressional Oversight and Measuring Its Effectiveness” (pdf)
Read the entire edition: Congressional Oversight in the 21st Century (Volume 64, No. 1)
9:30 a.m.: Opening remarks
- Richard A. Bierschbach, dean and professor, Wayne State University Law School
- Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy; distinguished legislator in residence, Wayne Law
- Dane Lepola, editor-in-chief, Wayne Law Review
10:00 a.m.: Defining Congressional Oversight and Measuring its Effectiveness
- Dr. Frank R. Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson distinguished professor of political science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Alan Kahn, public interest director, University of Michigan Law School
- Dr. Kevin Kosar, vice president of policy, R Street Institute
- Jonathan Lewallen, assistant professor of political science, University of Tampa
- Moderator: William Marshall, William Rand Kenan Jr. distinguished professor, University of North Carolina School of Law
11:30 a.m.: Congressional Oversight and the Judicial Branch
- Dr. Lauren C. Bell, dean of academic affairs, professor, Randolph-Macon College
- J. Richard Broughton, associate dean for academic affairs, associate professor, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
- Morgan Frankel, deputy U.S. senate legal counsel, Office of Senate Legal Counsel
- Moderator: Heidi Kitrosser, professor, University of Minnesota Law School
1:15 p.m.: Keynote speaker
- Steve Castor, chief investigative counsel, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform under Chairman Trey Gowdy
- Introduced by: Robert M. Ackerman, professor, Wayne Law; director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy
2:00 p.m.: Congressional Oversight: Tools and Topics
- Kimberly Breedon, independent legal scholar
- A. Christopher Bryant, Rufus King professor of constitutional law, University of Cincinnati College of Law
- Dr. Brian D. Feinstein, Harry A. Bigelow Teaching Fellow, lecturer in law, University of Chicago Law School
- Andrew Wright, associate professor, Savannah Law School
- Moderator: Kathleen Clark, professor, Washington University School of Law
3:30 p.m.: Closing remarks
- Thomas Lurie, symposium editor, Wayne Law Review
- Elise Bean, Washington co-director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy
On November 10, 2017, at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, the Levin Center held a day-long symposium on “Current Issues in Immigration Law: Detention, ‘Sanctuary Cities,’ and the ‘Travel Ban.’”
The event brought together top scholars and leaders from across the country to discuss the following topics:
- Immigration Detention in the United States
- Sanctuary Cities: Immigration Law Meets Federalism
- Iraqi Deportations in Detroit: Community Perspectives and Responses
- The President, the Courts and the “Travel Ban”
Eighteen experts participated in the event, hailing from institutions including Georgetown University Law Center, University of Michigan Law School and University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Moderating the discussions (respectively) were Associate Professor Rachel Settlage, Professor Paul Dubinsky, Assistant Professor (Clinical) Sabrina Balgamwalla, and Professor Jonathan T. Weinberg, all members of the Wayne Law faculty.
Providing opening remarks were conference moderator Professor Robert M. Ackerman, director of the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy; Law School Dean Richard A. Bierschbach; and former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy.
- See photos from the event
- Watch the opening remarks and Panel 1, Immigration Detention in the United States
- Watch Panel 2, Sanctuary Cities: Immigration Law Meets Federalism
- Watch Panel 3, Iraqi Deportations in Detroit: Community Perspectives and Responses
- Watch Panel 4, The President, the Courts and the Travel Ban
This conference was made possible through the generous support of the Manoogian Simone Foundation and the Alex and Marie Manoogian Foundation.
On June 9, 2017, in an effort to elevate academic research into congressional oversight issues, the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy held a Scholars Roundtable on Congressional Oversight, the first such gathering in U.S. academic circles. The event took place at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit. Roundtable participants included professors and other scholars who had conducted research into issues related to congressional oversight, including its legal, political, and historical basis, effectiveness, and role in the constitutional system of checks and balances. They spanned a range of academic disciplines including law, political science, political theory, and history.
Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin welcomed the roundtable participants. During the proceedings, participants were invited to describe their areas of research, interact with other scholars in the field, and contribute to development of a national research agenda to advance congressional oversight scholarship.
“Congressional oversight of the executive branch is more important than ever and is a bipartisan priority and responsibility of Congress, no matter who the President or what his party. The Levin Center put on a fantastic and stimulating conference that gave me faith that the nation’s top minds in law and political science will be energetically studying this theme in the years to come. Bravo to Wayne State Law School and to the Levin Center for launching this critical initiative.” — Harvard Professor Daniel Carpenter
On January 31, 2017, in Washington, D.C., the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy held a half-day conference, “Next Steps in Offshore Multinational Corporate Tax.” Co-chaired by retired U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Tom A. Coburn, M.D., the conference provided a bipartisan setting for examining a variety of corporate tax issues being considered by the new Congress in connection with comprehensive corporate tax reform. The conference included a brief presentation of key issues by the panel moderator, drawing on past congressional tax oversight investigations, followed by an extended dialogue on the issues by the five panelists.
At the time of the conference, corporate tax reform was a dominant topic of interest on the Washington agenda, but its pace and contours were still unknown. Panelists presented diverse views on how Congress and the new administration could tackle issues related to multinational corporate offshore profits. One major topic that provided a backdrop to the discussion was the practice of some U.S. multinationals of declaring an increasing share of their profits in offshore tax havens. Bipartisan congressional oversight investigations have disclosed how those profitable U.S. multinationals have shifted billions of dollars to low-tax jurisdictions, deferred or avoided paying U.S. taxes on those profits, and helped reduce the corporate share of U.S. taxes to a near all-time low.
In addition to discussing the role of tax havens in U.S. corporate tax avoidance, the panelists addressed a number of other corporate tax issues including:
- Future tax treatment of corporate foreign earnings;
- The pros and cons of a tax holiday on offshore corporate profits;
- The consequences of adopting proposed border adjustment tax reform;
- Use of corporate tax revenues to fund infrastructure; and
- Possible responses to European illegal state aid cases.
Retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, is chair of the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy, Wayne Law’s distinguished legislator in residence, and former chair of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which, during his tenure, conducted bipartisan inquiries into a wide range of corporate tax matters.
Retired U.S. Sen. Tom A. Coburn, M.D., R-OK, served in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2014 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001. As former ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he participated in corporate tax investigations and also introduced corporate tax legislation.
Welcoming remarks were also provided by Lance Gable, interim dean of Wayne State University Law School.
Robert B. Stack is deputy assistant secretary (international tax affairs) for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In addition to overseeing development of U.S. international tax policy, he serves as the U.S. delegate to the Committee on Fiscal Affairs in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and to the Global Forum on Transparency. His last day in office is Jan. 20, 2017.
Edward Kleinbard is the Johnson professor of law and business at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and a fellow at The Century Foundation. Previously, he was chief of staff for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.
Paul W. Oosterhuis is of counsel at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C. Oosterhuis is an international tax attorney representing clients on a wide range of international and U.S. tax matters. He has extensive experience in international mergers and acquisitions, post-acquisition integration transactions, spin-offs, internal restructurings and joint venture transactions. He also represents multinational companies in non-transactional international tax planning and IRS controversy matters.
Moderating the discussion will be Elise Bean, Washington co-director for the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy. From 2003 to 2014, she served as staff director and chief counsel for Sen. Levin on the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. For the second consecutive year, Bean was named to the Global Tax 50, an international list of 50 people and organizations who influenced tax policy.
- Donald J. Trump’s tax reform plan
- U.S. House of Representatives Republican tax reform plan
- Tax Foundation’s analysis of the House Republican tax reform plan (pdf)
- Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the House Republican tax reform plan (pdf)
- Economic Policy Institute’s Corporate Tax Chartbook (pdf) (with data on corporate taxes)
- American’s for Tax Fairness’ comparison of the House Republican tax plan and Donald J. Trump’s tax plan (pdf)
- Citizens for Tax Justice’s report on offshore corporate tax issues (pdf)
- “Stateless Income’s Challenge to Tax Policy“
Reports on offshore corporate tax matters by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations:
Donald J. Trump’s infrastructure plan
- Navarro-Ross report on infrastructure plan (pdf)
- “Five things to know about Trump’s infrastructure plan”
- Center for American Progress’ report on infrastructure plan
- Ron Klain’s analysis of infrastructure plan
Proposed border adjustment tax provisions
- Auberback-Holtz-Eakin’s report in support of border adjustment tax reform (pdf)
- Martin Feldstein’s analysis in support of border adjustment tax reform
- The Brattle Group’s report in opposition to border adjustment tax reform
- Reuven Avi-Yonah’s analysis in opposition to border adjustment tax reform
- Lawrence Summers’ analysis in opposition to border adjustment tax reform
- Oxfam’s comparison of border adjustment and ending foreign tax deferral
- Michael Graetz’s analysis of unknown factors affecting the border adjustment tax reform
European actions to combat multinational corporate tax avoidance
- European Commission’s decision on Apple (pdf)
- U.S. Department of the Treasury’s White Paper on European Commission state aid decisions (pdf)
- Analysis of the European Commission’s decision making process with regard to Apple
Examining the Congressional-Executive Branch Struggle Over Access to Information
On October 25, 2016, in Washington, D.C., the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy and The Constitution Project held a half-day conference called, “A Right to ‘Know’ or a Right to ‘No’? The conference was live-streamed on C-SPAN and looked at the tension between Congress’ constitutional responsibility to oversee the workings of the executive branch and the president’s claims of executive privilege and deliberative process in order to protect the inner workings of the White House. The conference consisted of two panels of experienced practitioners and distinguished scholars.
The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to serve as a check on the operations of the vast expanse of the executive branch. That responsibility has long been recognized as an integral part of our system of checks and balances.
In 1927 the Supreme Court explicitly stated in the case of McGrain v. Daugherty: “We are of the opinion that the power of inquiry – with process to enforce it – is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.”
That was reinforced in the 1957 case of Watkins v. the U.S. when the Supreme Court clearly acknowledged Congress’ inherent power to conduct investigations, stating it was a broad power, including “inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws”, needed statutes, defects in our social, economic, or political system, and “probes…to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste.”
In order for oversight to work, Congress has to know what’s going on in the executive branch. That means making demands on the executive branch for information – both documents and witnesses – and that often creates a tension between the two branches. The degree of that tension between the Congress and the administration over access to executive branch information varies from Congress to Congress based on a number of elements. These include the popularity of the president, congressional leadership, the issues being investigated, the degree of public interest, the presence or absence of criminal culpability, the individual personalities involved and the state of the law. Given the election of a new president and new Congress, this was a this was a meaningful time to review the rights, rules and principles that govern this inter-branch tug of war, and to contemplate the path forward. Questions addressed included whether reform is necessary to ensure that Congress can access the information it needs to check the executive branch effectively and how Congress should best be held accountable for using its oversight powers and tools appropriately.
Welcome and overview
- Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chair, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy
- Virginia Sloan, president, The Constitution Project
Panel one: Recent Developments in the Law on Congressional Access to Information
- Steve Castor, deputy general counsel, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
- David Hayes, distinguished visiting lecturer in law, Stanford Law School
- Ronald Weich, dean, University of Baltimore School of Law
- Andrew Wright, associate professor, Savannah Law School
- Moderator: Linda Gustitus, Washington co-director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy; former staff director, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
Panel two: Is the Current System Working or Does it Need Reform?
- Josh Chafetz, professor of law, Cornell Law School
- Kerry Kircher, former general counsel, U.S. House of Representatives
- Mort Rosenberg, former specialist in American public law, Congressional Research Service
- Moderator: Jocelyn Benson, director, Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy
The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy presented a half-day conference, “Congressional Oversight of Classified Programs – 40 Years after the Church Committee,” on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in Washington, D.C. The conference, the first for the newly established Levin Center, reviewed the status of the Church Committee reforms of 1975 and Congress’ ability to oversee classified programs. The conference consisted of three panel discussions in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. Nine panelists and two moderators participated, and about 100 people attended the conference, which also was live streamed online.
- View photos from the conference
- Watch video of the conference in its entirety
- Read related op-ed by Sen. Levin
This is a timely subject in light of the recent disputes between Congress and the Executive Branch over the CIA interrogation program and the National Security Agency’s expansive eavesdropping on the American public.
The overall theme of the conference was the mechanics, difficulties and importance of congressional oversight of intelligence activities, in particular how to oversee covert operations, secret budgets and classified materials. Congress is charged under the Constitution with the responsibility to inform the public of the workings of its government and the issues that the government should address. To meet that responsibility Congress needs to have the facts about what actions the Executive Branch is taking and upon what basis in law the Executive Branch is acting. Getting those facts becomes particularly difficult when the programs Congress is overseeing are subject to classification. Yet the programs carried out by agencies such as the CIA can have long-lasting ramifications to the future health and well being of the country and its people.
This conference looked at one of the most successful reviews of secret or covert activities by the CIA, the Church Committee investigation, and gleaned the lessons learned from the conduct of that committee. The conference addressed the complex interaction of the oversight responsibilities of Congress with the classification of national security secrets by the Executive Branch and identify ways in which the two interests can be satisfied.
The U.S. Senate’s Church Committee, convened in 1975 and led by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, was tasked with investigating federal intelligence operations in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the revelation of spying by the CIA on anti-war activists.
8:30 a.m. – Opening and introductions by moderators
- Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
- Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., president of The Lugar Center and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Welcoming remarks were also provided by Linda Gustitus, co-director of the Levin Center’s Washington Office
9 to 10:30 a.m. – Panel One: The Church Committee’s Experience with Classified Information
- Moderator – Michael German, fellow, Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security Program.
- Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz Jr., chief counsel of the Brennan Center. From 1975 to 1976, Schwarz was chief counsel to the Church Committee. He recently has written the book Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy.
- Dr. Loch K. Johnson, regents professor of political science in the Department of International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Johnson was special assistant to the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Oversight from 1975 to 1976. He also served as staff director of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence Oversight from 1977 to 1979. In 1995 and 1996, Johnson worked with the chair of the Aspin-Brown Commission on Intelligence. He is the author of the book A Season of Inquiry, which provides an inside look at the operations of the Church Committee.
- Morton Halperin, senior advisor to the Open Society Foundation. Halperin had a distinguished career in federal government, having served in the Clinton, Nixon and Johnson administrations. From 1975 to 1992, he served as the director of the Center for National Security Studies, where he was involved in the work of the Church Committee and contributed to the drafting of Senate Resolution 400.
10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. – Panel Two: Post Church Oversight and Congress’ Responsibility to Know and to Inform the Public
- Moderator – Laura K. Donohue, professor at Georgetown University Law School, director of Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law, and director of the Center on Privacy and Technology. She is working on The Future of Foreign Intelligence (Oxford University Press, 2015), focusing on the Fourth Amendment and surveillance in a digital world. A previous book, The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty (Cambridge University Press, 2008) looked at the impact of American and British counterterrorist law on life, liberty, property, privacy and free speech. Her articles have examined topics including the doctrine of state secrets and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and she has held numerous fellowships related to international security.
- Eleanor J. Hill, a partner in the law firm of King Spalding. She has more than 33 years of experience handling investigations in both the public and private sector. She served as the staff director in 2002 for the bipartisan, bicameral Joint Congressional Inquiry on the September 11th Attacks. From 1995 through 1999, Hill served as inspector general to the Department of Defense. Prior to that, she served as chief counsel and staff director to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
- Michael J. Glennon, professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Prior to teaching, he was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (1977 to 1980). He was a Fulbright Distinguished Professor of International and Constitutional Law and Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and has served as a consultant to various congressional committees, the State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency. His latest book, National Security and Double Government, challenges the view that U.S. security policy is forged by America’s visible “Madisonian institutions,” the president, Congress and the courts.
- Daniel Jones, professional staff member, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. During his nearly nine-year tenure with the committee, Jones has been responsible for the counterterrorism and counterintelligence oversight accounts and has led several of the committee’s most high-profile investigations, including the committee’s most-recent 6,700-page Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program (aka the “Senate Torture Report”). Prior to joining the committee, Jones worked at the FBI, where he supported senior officials in their management of international operations and investigations.
- Benjamin A. Powell, a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale and co-chair of its cybersecurity, privacy and communications practice. In 2005, he was nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as the first general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He served as general counsel for the first three directors. Prior to that, he had served as special assistant to President Bush and as associate White House counsel.
12:30 to 1:30 p.m. – Lunch Panel: Achieving Fact-Based, Bipartisan Oversight of the Intelligence Community
- Sen. Levin and Sen. Lugar will discuss past experiences with oversight of the intelligence community, the oversight problems involving classified materials and what needs to be done to ensure good oversight.
Suggested reading list for conference
- Senate Historical Office on the Church Committee
- Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate: together with additional, supplemental, and separate views (Church Committee Report)
- New York Times article on CIA (pdf) (pdf) by Seymour Hersh (Dec. 22, 1974)
- A Season of Inquiry: The Senate Intelligence Investigation by Loch K. Johnson
- Resolution Establishing the Church Committee (pdf) (pdf)
- Text of Senate Resolution 400
- Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy by Frederick A.O. “Fritz” Schwarz Jr.
- Congress as a User of Intelligence (pdf) (pdf) by L. Britt Snider
- National Security and Double Government (pdf) (pdf) by Michael Glennon
- Committee Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program by Senate Intelligence Committee
- Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 (pdf) (pdf) by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
- Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (pdf) (pdf) by Senate Armed Services Committee