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This report provides information on parliamentary oversight mechanisms of the executive branch in Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries represent different geographical regions and parliamentary systems. All but Sweden have bicameral legislatures.
The means by which the surveyed countries exercise parliamentary oversight of executive branch actions often include members’ inquiries, interpellations, and votes of no confidence against the respective governments. Specialized permanent or ad hoc parliamentary committees tasked with oversight of government actions in specific areas operate in all the countries surveyed.
In addition to specialized committee review, Swedish parliamentary oversight is conducted by the Committee on the Constitution (Konstitutionsutskottet). Consisting of forty-four members representing all parties of Parliament, this Committee has the power to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and request classified materials from members of Parliament.
In Germany, in addition to the Defense Committee, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Armed Forces assists the German Parliament (Bundestag) with oversight of the armed forces. The Commissioner is neither a member of the Bundestag nor a civil servant.
A Service for Parliamentary Control operates within the Italian Chamber of Deputies. The main functions of the Service are to provide technical verification of the implementation of parliamentary legislation and the respective implementing regulations by the executive branch; to verify and monitor the follow-up to nonlegislative parliamentary deliberations and initiatives; and to verify the government’s compliance with parliamentary legislation. The Service operates in accordance with special regulations and under the supervision of the parliamentary Committee for the Supervision on Documentation Activity and the Library.
Both the United States and Canada have established special agencies dedicated to overseeing government activities.
In addition to delegating oversight powers to congressional committees though the committee system, in the United States congressional oversight traditionally involves the support of a number of offices, including the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Major congressional oversight processes include hearings on and other investigations of executive branch activities, impeachment of executive branch officials, Senate confirmation of high-level executive branch appointees, the appropriation of funds for agencies and programs, the authorization of agencies and programs, and the development of the federal budget.
In Canada there are nine permanent, specialized oversight offices that report to either the Senate or House of Commons or both. They consist of the Office of the Auditor General, Elections Canada, the Office of the Information Commissioner, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Last Updated: 12/30/2020