Good government depends on good information. To get an accurate understanding of issues, congressional committees investigate. One goal of investigations is to uncover whether government agencies are performing effectively or whether new laws are needed.
The first congressional investigation, in 1792, was in response to news that Shawnee and Miami Indians had destroyed General Arthur St. Clair's army. The House formed a committee of inquiry, which asked for War Department papers. President Washington agreed—cautiously. The inquiry that followed blamed the War and Treasury departments for the defeat. Although the president's supporters prevented the House report from becoming public, the process firmly established the power of Congress to investigate.
"It was due to justice, to truth, and to the national honor, to take effectual measures to investigate the business thoroughly."
— Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, 1792