Oversight: Outrunning Your Friends, not the Bear.

Andrew Deerin

SignalCast sat down with EVP Charlie Moskowitz for a little Q&A on how companies, large and small, can navigate the at times treacherous waters of Congressional Oversight.

SIGNALCAST: Welcome to SignalCast, the podcast from Signal Group. Signal’s a bipartisan communication and advocacy firm located in Washington, D.C. As always, I’m your host Andrew Deerin, Creative Director at Signal, and for today’s show, we’re sitting down with our own Charlie Moskowitz for a little Q&A on how companies large and small can navigate the at-times treacherous waters of congressional oversight. Congress’ oversight authority derives from its implied powers in the Constitution, public laws, and House and Senate rules. It’s an integral part of the American system of checks and balances.

Charlie, first of all, welcome to the SignalCast studios.

CHARLIE MOSKOWITZ: Thank you for having me.

SC: Awesome. You just came off an almost decade stint on the hill, toiling in the strange world of oversight including drug pricing investigation and everyone’s favorite punching bag, the cable industry just to name a few. Let’s start by explaining where an investigation comes from.

MOSKOWITZ: Sure. The first thing to understand is that an investigation can pretty much start from anywhere. It could be a whistleblower who knows a lot about your company and where the bodies are buried. It could be something as simple as a member had a bad flight going home after a long week, or it could be something where there’s already some meat on the bone, a 60 Minutes report that they saw or an official government document like a GAO report or an IG report.

SC: I obviously try to avoid as many congressional oversight inquires as possible, but there is a saying that I’ve heard before that when it comes to oversight. You don’t have to out run the bear, you just have to out run your friend. Take me through what that means.

MOSKOWITZ: It’s important to be cooperative when you realize that you are the target of an investigation, when you get a subpoena or you get a letter asking for a response from Congress. Typically, there are multiple companies getting investigated at one time. They’re not just going after you. They’re looking at your industry as a whole or the biggest players in your industry, and so that’s really to suggest that you don’t necessarily have to give them everything, but it’s important to make sure that you are more cooperative than the least cooperative company that’s under investigation.

SC: If your firm does find itself in the committee sights, what are a couple things they should keep in mind?

MOSKOWITZ: Be proactive, be proactive, be proactive. There are a couple of different ways to do this but realize that the investigation is being done by two staffs. For the Democrat and Republican staff of a committee, there are anywhere from six to eight to ten on the Senate-side more members that are on that committee that can help you understand where the investigation is among the committee staff. They can be your allies if there is a hearing later. And on the House side, the committees have 40 and 50 members, so you really have an opportunity to go out there and talk to a lot of different members and get your story out there before the committee releases its report or its findings and make sure you’re getting your side of the story told.

SC: So let me pick your brain a little since you have obviously a good bit of insider information from the committee side of things. Does it matter if a committee is united? It seems to me that disagreement would be a good thing for a company being investigated.

MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, absolutely. Like any political campaign, if you have a wedge that you can drive between the two sides, all the better. The united front from the Democrats and Republicans on a committee is going to mean that you don’t have too many allies up there. But to the extent that you can figure out whether this is being driven by one side or the other, and you can get the other side to really understand where you’re coming from and understand that these guys are on a witch hunt, you’re going to find yourself with a lot more allies and be able to get your story out there and really lessen the blow of whatever it is that they end up producing.

SC: What advice then would you give to a company that is currently under investigation but clearly has some cleaning up to do?

MOSKOWITZ: You should do as much of that cleaning up as you can before the committee comes out with its report or its hearing. Take steps well in advance of whatever final product that they’re putting out to remediate whatever issues that you have. But even at the 23rd hour, if you can take a few cosmetic steps so that you can go either into the hearing or to the press the next day after a report comes out and say, “Hey yeah, we know we did something wrong but look, we’re trying to be good stewards. We are taking steps already and we’re going to keep looking into this and figure out how we can make things right”. That will take a lot of the wind out of the sails of the investigation.

SC: Give us a parting shot, a parting thought.

MOSKOWITZ: One thing that I think is really important to understand is that these steps are small and the resources are scarce. Once they go down the road of an investigation, they’ve chosen to investigate you and your company, your industry over any number of other things that they could be doing with their time, they’re going to find something. The worst thing you can do is turn your back on them and hope they go away. They won’t.

SC: It’s like the IRS.

MOSKOWITZ: Yes. Exactly.

SC: Well that will do it for today’s show. My many thanks to Charlie Moskowitz for acting as our oversight tour guide, if you will. We hope you found some of his insights helpful. You can reach him at cmoskowitz@signaldc.com. You can also check us out on the web at signaldc.com. For our entire production staff, I’m Andrew Deerin and we’ll see you next time.