United States

   

Executive Accountability

#17
Key Findings
Despite concerns related to the effects of polarization, the United States falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 17) in the area of executive accountability. Its score in this area has declined by 0.2 points relative to its 2014 level.

Citizens’ policy-knowledge levels are on average quite low, with “partisan motivated reasoning” an increasing concern. Serious, in-depth policy reporting exists, but a decline in journalistic standards is evident, particularly in a right-leaning media that echoes Trump’s constant claim that mainstream news organizations are reporting “fake news.”

Congressional resources are quite substantial, and formal powers are strong. However, the administration has refused to provide access to important information and key figures for oversight hearings. The influential General Accountability Office performs audit functions. No specific ombuds office exists. There is no national data-protection authority.

Party candidates are chosen democratically. Party platforms are produced at conventions every four years, but have little influence. Interest associations are often sophisticated and media-savvy. Labor-union staff capacity has declined over decades, reducing the interest representation of low-income people.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#19

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
5
With regards to how government works, and the complexity of the issues addressed by policies and policymaking, the U.S. public is generally quite uninformed. Comparing citizens’ levels of governmental knowledge across political systems is difficult. In recent years, observers have become most concerned about the strength of “partisan motivated reasoning” on the part of ordinary citizens. An unprecedented series of scandals, failures and deviations from consensus policies have barely affected public approval of Trump, which has held almost constant at around 42% throughout his first three years in office. According to the 2019 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, only 39% of U.S. adults could correctly identify the three branches of government (executive, judicial and legislative).

Citations:
https://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-civics-knowledge-increases-2019-survey/

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
7
In addition to data on the activities of government, the U.S. government publishes a vast amount of social, economic and other data. All major departments and agencies collect and publish important series of relevant data. The Budget of the United States Government describes all major programs, their funding and levels of activity, and each agency publishes a substantial annual report describing its operations and various measures of performance and outcomes.

Federal agencies often provide data in a form intended to be used by ordinary citizens. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides information for patients separately from that intended for health professionals. For the most part, however, federal agencies do not, and need not, take responsibility for putting data into a form that is best understood by ordinary citizens. Each body of federal data is repackaged and re-purposed by numerous media, service and other organizations.

The Trump administration has discontinued the publication of various data series on matters that challenge administration priorities, ranging from climate change to mental health. Its actions have been described as a “war on data.” Increasingly, the administration cites national security as an argument for withholding information from the public or Congress.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#21

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
10
The staff resources of the U.S. Congress substantially surpass those of any other national legislature. First, there are three large congressional agencies that perform research and analysis: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Congressional Research Service and Government Accountability Office. The CBO, a nonpartisan body, is the most credible source of budget analysis in the government. Secondly, each congressional committee has a sizable staff, divided between the majority and the minority parties. In addition, each member of Congress has personal staff, ranging from about 14 personnel, including at least one or two legislative specialists, for a member of the House, to more than 50, with several legislative specialists, for a senator from a large state.

The magnitude of Congress’s resources reflects three features: First, Congress is constitutionally independent of the executive, and thus seeks to avoid depending on it entirely for information and analysis. Second, Congress’s own structure has traditionally been decentralized, with much of the legislative work done in committee. And third, individual members are politically independent of the parties, and use staff both for participating in policymaking and for providing electorally beneficial services to constituents.

Importantly, Congress has cut staff personnel significantly in recent years. This reflects an increasing reliance on ideologically oriented think tanks for policy advice and centralization of control in the party leadership. The role of individual members and committees in policymaking has been diminished. Nevertheless, Congress’s staff levels remain unmatched globally.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
5
The legislature’s right to obtain government documents is well established in the U.S. system of government and congressional committees have subpoena power to request documents. This power is sometimes limited by claims of executive privilege – a constitutionally recognized entitlement that protects White House and agency internal communications in limited circumstances.
Although the executive branch often withholds classified information from general release to members of Congress, the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have top-secret clearance enabling them access to sensitive secrets. In any case, for most issues, the information that Congress needs for policymaking or oversight of administration does not fall under any plausible claim of executive privilege or security restriction. In these cases, Congress can obtain almost any information that exists. Within very broad limits, Congress can also ask departments and agencies to gather data or perform studies when it finds existing information to be insufficient.

In a sharp departure from past practice, the Republican Congress during the first two years of the Trump presidency has largely refrained from conducting oversight or investigations into the conduct of the executive branch. The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives as a result of the 2018 midterm elections massively increased levels of oversight and investigation, as it sought to render the executive under Trump accountable. Despite lacking credible legal or constitutional grounds, the Trump administration declared in 2019 the House investigations into presidential misconduct illegitimate and adopted a firm posture of refusing to cooperate with House requests for information, including legally binding subpoenas. As of late 2019, the House and the Trump administration have been embroiled in numerous lawsuits over the administration’s refusal to provide information, and the House has approved an article of impeachment alleging the obstruction of Congress.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
5
Executive officials do not appear on the House or Senate floor. However, department secretaries and other high-level officials of the executive branch appear with great frequency and regularity, essentially on request, before legislative committees and subcommittees. In the context of an investigation, committees sometimes subpoena executive branch members to make an appearance. Most appearances are voluntary, however, motivated by the desire to maintain strong relationships with the congressional committee. The resulting burdens on high-level executives become considerable, with congressional appearances and the required preparation taking up a significant share of executives’ time. Congress uses testimony from executive officials both in evaluating proposals for new legislation and in “oversight,” that is, in reviewing and evaluating the administration’s performance.

As with respect to documents, the Trump administration in 2019 has maintained an unprecedented, blanket refusal to allow executive branch officials to testify before House committees investigating presidential misconduct. As of 2019, there are numerous lawsuits underway, but the House also – recognizing the unprecedented, sweeping character of the administration’s positions, and their incompatibility with the basic design of the constitutional system – has approved an article of impeachment alleging the obstruction of Congress.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
The invitation of outside experts to testify at committee hearings is an established, highly routine practice in the legislative process. Hearing transcripts are published, and testimony from a variety of qualified witnesses is expected in a competent committee process. Although congressional norms call for permitting both parties to select witnesses, some committee chairs in the current era severely limit the minority-party witnesses, resulting in a selection of witnesses strongly biased in favor of the majority-party position.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The structure of committees in the House and Senate largely reflects the structure of the executive branch. When deviations occur, the adverse effect on the ability of the House and Senate to monitor executive activities and performance is modest. But there are also effects on the burdens of oversight for the agencies. Agencies will sometimes face hearings and investigations from several committees from both chambers that have jurisdiction over an agency or program. Indeed, committees compete for the publicity that comes with investigating a highly salient topic. Because members of Congress develop large stakes in monitoring and influencing particular programs, the structure of the congressional committee system often is a serious barrier to reorganization of the executive branch. In financial regulatory reform, for example, committee jurisdiction stood in the way of organizational reform because the proposed abolition of the Office of Thrift Supervision would have resulted in a committee losing its jurisdiction.

Media

#16

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
For the interested citizen, it is easy to find a large volume of serious, high-quality reporting on government and policy, with balanced, reasonably objective treatment of issues – in print, on the internet or on television. But such qualities do not describe much more than half of major news outlets, nor the outlets used by large audiences. A majority of citizens obtain most of their news from television rather than newspapers or the internet, and the quality of the national news broadcasts has been declining. However, reputable news-reporting and news-analysis programs are available on radio and TV networks. The information quality of talk shows varies, ranging from “infotainment” to the serious discussion of policy issues with reputable experts.

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election campaign, investigations have determined that Russian content farms, working through disguised social media accounts, created false and misleading news posts on Facebook and other social media that that were received hundreds of millions of times by unsuspecting social media users. The posts were generally designed to increase division and conflict in American society and, in particular, to promote the candidacy and subsequent presidency of Donald Trump, and have continued to do so. Facebook and other media companies have been embarrassed by their failure of self-policing. It is unclear how effectively such interventions can be prevented.

Parties and Interest Associations

#1

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
9
There are two major parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, operating at the local, state and federal levels in nearly all areas of the country. Unlike in parties in parliamentary systems, individual officeholders (for example, members of Congress) decide their own positions on policy issues, subject to informal influence from party leaders. Thus, party programs or platforms, amounting to collective statements of party policies, do not exist. A national party platform is written every fourth year at each party’s presidential nominating convention but is rarely referred to after the convention.

The occasion for intra-party democracy is therefore the nomination of party candidates for office. Party nominations are determined by primary elections and open caucuses conducted within each party in each state, thus putting these decisions directly in the hands of ordinary party members. The Trump nomination underscored the critical views of analysts about the dangers of relying on ordinary party members to select party nominees. Nevertheless, former supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful pursuit of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination have successfully pressured the Democratic party to reduce the role of party leaders in the 2020 presidential nomination contest.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
9
A vast number of business associations are active in the United States. This is a reflection of the size and complexity of the American economy and of a political culture that fosters participation, but also of the opportunities for lobbying influence in a decentralized political system. The associations themselves range from peak associations such as the Business Roundtable to trade associations of major industries such as the American Trucking Association and groups representing narrow industry segments. The larger, wealthier associations have large professional staffs and can produce credible policy proposals with substantial supporting documentation. Given the large numbers of very small associations, it is not true that “most” business associations can present credible proposals. However, there are certainly several hundred business associations that can draft bills or amendments and present articulate, sophisticated arguments for their positions.

Labor union staff capacity has declined over several decades, as a result of the declining proportion of the workforce organized by unions (now about 11%). It is still sufficient to formulate relevant policy proposals in areas of interest. In general, labor unions are the principal interest organizations that represent the interests of low-income people. Thus, the decline in union capability is a potentially significant weakness of the U.S. political system.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
8
Public-interest or civil society associations’ competence in proposing reasonable policy initiatives is unusually high in the United States. This high level of competence is in part due to associations’ ability to attract highly qualified professional staff, and in part due to their media and communication skills. This holds true for groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Common Cause and the National Taxpayers’ Union. From the standpoint of developing credible policies, these associations have the advantage of focusing on broad interests, rather than self-interested ones, as their central mission. However, they are subject to ideological biases and membership demands that tend to favor extreme views. Citizens’ groups do not receive public support for their policy development or representational activities.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#23

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
10
The General Accountability Office (GAO) is the independent nonpartisan agency of the U.S. Congress charged with auditing activities. It is responsive to Congress alone. The GAO undertakes audits and investigations upon the request of congressional committees or subcommittees, or as mandated by public laws or committee reports. The GAO also undertakes research under the authority of the Comptroller General. In addition to auditing agency operations, the GAO analyzes how well government programs and policies are meeting their objectives. It performs policy analyses and outlines options for congressional consideration. It also has a judicial function in deciding bid protests in federal procurement cases. In many ways, the GAO can be considered a policy-analysis arm of Congress.

Citations:
agree

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
6
Congress does not have an ombuds office, as such. Its members, who cultivate close ties with their state or district constituencies, effectively function as a collective ombuds office. Members of Congress each have several staff members who deal full-time with constituents’ requests for service. The total number of staffers engaged in constituency service is at least in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals. A weakness of this arrangement is that it is somewhat informal and the coordination and management of staffers is left up to the individual congressional office. Government agencies do not suggest that clients encountering difficulties contact their senator or representative for assistance, and the constituency-service staff does not develop specialized expertise, except for the most common categories of request. In addition, because the acquisition of experience is massively disaggregated, without any systematic collation of information from the 535 congressional offices, congressional staff are less able to identify general policy or administration problems than an actual ombuds office would be. Congress retains this inefficient organization for dealing with citizens’ problems because it enables the legislators to gain individual political credit for providing services.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
7
Numerous laws govern the handling of information by U.S. government agencies – in the interests of maintaining citizens’ privacy, protecting proprietary information of businesses, preventing identity theft, and for other purposes. Overall, these regimes may be relatively strict. However, while there is no national data protection authority, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the past several years has made itself America’s de facto data protection authority through aggressive use of Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive trade practices. The FTC took enforcement action to protect consumers against unfair or deceptive trade practices, including materially unfair privacy and data security practices.
Many state attorneys generally have similar enforcement authority over unfair and deceptive business practices, including the failure to implement reasonable security measures and violations of consumer privacy rights that harm consumers in their states. In addition, a wide range of sector-specific regulators, particularly those in the healthcare, financial services, telecommunications and insurance sectors, have authority to issue and enforce privacy and security regulations, with respect to entities under their jurisdiction.

Citations:
see: International Association of Privacy Professionals (2019): The U.S. Doesn’t Have a National Data Protection Authority? Think Again…
https://iapp.org/news/a/america-doesnt-have-a-national-data-protection-authority-think-again/
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