Investigations Done Right Will Benefit the Country, Lee Hamilton '52 Writes
June 12, 2013
"By my count, 11 separate Washington investigations are looking into the three big issues besetting the Obama Administration right now: Benghazi, IRS targeting of tea party groups, and the Justice Department's pursuit of national security leaks to Associated Press reporters," begins a column by Lee H. Hamilton. The former congressman and 1952 graduate of DePauw University opines, "Each case raises important questions, and the investigations offer Americans the chance to find out what went wrong and to fix the problem. But that will only happen if the investigators -- on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch -- do it right."
The Democrat continues, "I've done my share of digging into complex matters -- as co-chair of the Iran-Contra Special Committee, of the 9-11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group -- and what I know is this: an investigation ought to be forward-looking and constructive, focused on a key question that is important to the American people. What does it take to keep our U.S. missions secure? That's what the Benghazi inquiry is really about. How do we make sure the IRS remains rigorously non-partisan and competently managed? In the AP case, how should the government balance respect for freedom of the media against the need to safeguard national security? These are matters of national interest, and the investigations give us a chance to pursue each of them.
"But retaining a laser-like focus on what really counts is difficult in Washington. Any inquiry is bound to arouse people and groups who have something at stake in it, and they will fight long and hard to make sure their point of view prevails. Politicians look for partisan advantage. The federal bureaucracy protects its turf, and agencies do everything they can to spin testimony or cast blame elsewhere. Lobbyists protect the interests they represent. The White House always wants to shield the President, and can be counted on to drag its heels if an investigation heads in a direction it doesn't like," writes the veteran statesman.
"To ensure that legislative investigators stay on track, their overall approach is crucial. Most important, they need to come in with an open mind and focus on the facts. It's amazing how much time gets spent arguing over what took place. Determining this is the bedrock of a good investigation, because once you get an understanding of events and how they came about, it becomes much easier to discern and agree upon solutions for the future."
Hamilton, who served 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and later co-chaired the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group, calls the process of conducting a congressional investigation "a minefield. But if the purpose is clear -- getting to the bottom of what happened and coming up with approaches to fix the institutional shortcomings that come to light -- and the methods are open, fair, bi-partisan, and trustworthy, the benefits to the American people can last for years."
Read the complete essay in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Now director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee H. Hamilton authored Strengthening Congress; How Congress Works and Why You Should Care; and A Creative Tension: The Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress. "Despite no longer being an elected representative, the former 9th District Indiana Congressman continues in his lifelong work toward making the American legislative process stronger, smarter and better," noted the News and Tribune of Jeffersonville, Indiana last month.
Hamilton, a history major and basketball standout as an undergraduate, has been a frequent visitor to DePauw over the years and delivered an Ubben Lecture on March 15, 2011.Back