Investigative Reporting: Agencies and the Executive Branch

By Carolyn VanBrocklin

As an investigative journalist, it is important to understand government agencies. There are many aspects of the agency that must be in the front of the journalist’s mind. One of the main things is making sense of the agency budget. There are many intricacies to the budget of an agency, but to make sure that they are spending the proper amounts of money and that it is going to the designated place, journalists must understand it as part of the watchdog function of the press.tips4

Another important part of the agency that journalists must understand is the contracting process. It has several steps that are followed as the process unfolds. First the agency gets informal cost estimates; then they either give notice of bids or request for proposals to determine who is interested and to find open-ended contractors. Investigative journalists can then check companies that bid or win bids to make sure they are in good standing. Agencies must also look at product preferences in case there are restrictions on what kind of products can be purchased. The agency has to make efforts to contract minority groups, and occasionally they can be called on to be audited. Sometimes journalists can uncover scams involving change orders. These orders can be justified, but sometimes they are dishonest.

When investigating federal affairs, journalists must be aware of the top executives and their responsibilities. This is where the tone is set for the rest of the executive branch, so this person can offer some valuable insight into their personal policy, the government policy and how it is run. In addition there are Cabinet appointees to follow because they are the most visible. Often, journalists can find useful information about them.

One of the main things to be on the lookout for is conflicts of interest. This is one of the main places where scandals can occur. Sometimes an agency official can be the director of a bank, so much of the agencies dealings will occur with that bank and will be skewed to support the bank. Sometimes government positions can be bargained off to get a good deal, even though the person taking that position might not be as qualified.

In addition to following the executive branch, reporters must also be aware of the legislative branch. In this branch it is also important to follow the money. Often, journalists must look at campaign finance by looking at the reports of contribution and expenditure. This way they can see what is being received and what is being spent.

In this report from the Wall Street Journal, the author talks about a CEO who likely manipulated the stocks that brought him so much wealth.  This is an example of being aware of government agencies, or any other agencies for that matter.  

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