Intelligence Outcomes: Assessing the 1975-1976 Intelligence Oversight Reforms

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Virginia Tech

Legislative oversight of the executive branch is a significant feature of the separation of powers, and takes on greater importance in a persistent era of divided political control in the United States federal government. Agency theory and oversight theory have served as principal lenses for the design and evaluation of congressional oversight functions. For the purpose of this study, oversight is politically-guided and technically-supported systematic foresight and review by First Branch members over Second Branch members and their activities in furtherance of public value and the protection of private liberties. The 1975-76 reformulation of the congressional oversight of federal intelligence activities offers a research opportunity to contrast the intelligence outcomes of a laissez-faire period of oversight (1947-1975) with a second period of active oversight (1976-2004). It also allows for the determination of whether more oversight (Johnson 1980; Zegart 2011) led to improved intelligence outcomes, and could serve as a case study in the more versus less foreign policy oversight scholarship debate (Olson 1989; Hinkley 1994; Scigliano 1994). The research is multi-faceted and employs mixed methods, primarily content analysis, comparisons of descriptive statistics, and Poisson regressions with time series autocorrelation corrections. The research contributes to our understanding of agency theory by attempting to evaluate several outcomes of an oversight design intervention: the Congress's transition from overseeing US intelligence activities via a few individuals in defense subcommittees to creating permanent standing select committees (with professional staff) in each chamber. The research provides public administration with new datasets focused on intelligence leaks and intelligence outcomes, specifically a record of intelligence failures and unavoided, uninitiated military conflicts involving the United States. It also provides a series of implications and recommendations for theory and praxis.

oversight, principal-agent, federal, congress, intelligence, national security, quantitative, regression, outcomes