[Paul B. Stephan is the John C. Jeffries, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Law and David H. Ibbeken '71 Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.]
Many scholars believe that a shift of authority to international organizations benefits the Executive Branch more than Congress. The Executive interacts directly with these organizations and bears undiluted accountability for the consequences of their actions. Congress deals with them sporadically and has weak institutional interests. Members are elected by local, rather than national, constituencies and therefore have an incentive to focus on local rather than national effects of foreign affairs, the actions of international organizations included. Therefore, some have suggested (myself included), Executive Branch actors might prefer international delegations as a means of hobbling legislative oversight. To oversimplify greatly, people like me have argued that internationalists who wish to deepen and broaden international cooperation through institutions might find themselves playing into the hands of the Imperial Presidency.
Kristina Daugirdas’s excellent article pushes back against the widely held belief that international institutions augment Executive power at the expense of Congress. Rather than theorize, she does research. Her careful study of the history and pattern of legislative oversight of the World Bank demonstrates the Congress has the capacity effectively (and significantly) to influence U.S. policy toward the Bank, and even to alter the Bank’s behavior. Creation of the Bank did not lead to a surrender of the legislature’s prerogatives, but rather gave members (especially in the House) a new pressure point for extracting concessions from the Executive.
The key factor that enables Congress to ride herd on the Bank, Daugirdas observes, is the Bank’s need for periodic new funding. This was not always true, as the Bank was designed to generate a positive return on its founding capital. The creation of a more aggressively redistributionist institution in the form of the International Development Association in 1960 changed this dynamic, because the IDA depends on frequent infusions of new capital. Because Congress must approve any U.S. contributions, it can hold the funding hostage to its policy preferences. Moreover, it has demonstrated an ability to monitor the Bank and thus to respond to slippage between its instructions and the Bank’s performance. In early years, when Congress instructed the U.S. Executive Director not to vote in favor of certain loans, the U.S. representative behaved as required but did nothing to alter the votes of other Directors. After Congress responded through more aggressive pressure on the funding lever, the Bank shifted course.
Although the need for regular funding is the salient variable, also important is the role of departmentalism within the Executive Branch. The White House, with its own agenda as well as acting as the focal point for all the Executive’s components to express their interests, may have a particular policy, but the Treasury has the responsibility for managing the United States’s relationship with the Bank and deals regularly with Congress. When Congress has been unhappy, Daugirdas shows, it focuses its displeasure on Treasury, which in turn works hard to steer the Bank’s behavior in the direction Congress wants, whatever the White House might prefer.
This article does several wonderful things. (more…)