To find out more about PEER, take a little time to read our answers to these Frequently Asked Questions.
PEER is an acronym for Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, a standing committee of the Mississippi Legislature. Created in 1973, PEER provides the Legislature with timely and accurate information on Mississippi state government in order to enable that body to perform its function of legislative oversight. PEER analyzes state agency programs and operations and helps the Legislature make state government more effective, efficient and accountable. The forms which PEER analyses take include:
The PEER Committee is comprised of seven members of the Senate and seven members of the House of Representatives and employs a staff of twenty-one.
Legislative oversight is the process by which a legislative body takes an active role in understanding and monitoring the performance of state government and applies this knowledge to its other three primary functions: making laws and public policy; setting budgets; and raising revenues. A Legislature must know and understand the operations of state government in order to make informed decisions on the laws which it passes and the financial decisions which it makes.
As government has grown and become increasingly complex, holding the public business accountable through effective legislative oversight has become increasingly challenging and important. Illustrative of the complexity of modern state government, Mississippi’s executive branch consists of approximately eighty-five agencies, boards, and commissions operating without close coordination under a complex administrative network which includes foundations, advisory boards, independent administrative regulatory boards, regional federal officials, and local officials. One of the consequences of this fragmented authority is a great deal of disparity in the levels of efficiency and effectiveness achieved by various programs. Legislative oversight can untangle the administrative network and fix responsibility for corrective action. Adding to the complex state government framework the tight fiscal constraints of recent years makes legislative oversight and its focus on the effective and efficient utilization of public sector resources even more critical.
While legislative oversight can involve obtaining any type of information for consideration in legislative deliberations, some of its primary objectives are to:
PEER is the primary entity performing legislative oversight in Mississippi. State law (MISS. CODE ANN. Section 5-3-51 et seq.) specifically grants PEER the authority to perform the following activities at any time as the committee deems necessary:
The law also grants the Committee the power to:
In addition to these legislated functions, from 1989 to the present the PEER Committee has provided staff assistance to the Standing Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment.
PEER bases its investigative and evaluative work on first-hand observation of the operations of state agencies and local government. While the primary objective of legislative oversight is to detect problems and deficiencies in the delivery of government services, PEER reviews assume a variety of forms. The three major types of oversight reviews are:
A full scope review incorporates all three of these major oversight review types.
The purpose of a financial audit or fiscal review is to determine through financial records whether public monies are being legally spent and properly controlled. An economy and efficiency review (also referred to as management audit or operations review) focuses on whether an entity is managing and utilizing its resources (e.g., property, personnel) economically and efficiently. This type of review also seeks to determine the causes of inefficiencies and/or uneconomical practices. A program or performance evaluation determines the effectiveness of government programs and operations in accomplishing goals and objectives. This type of review compares what a program is accomplishing to what the Legislature intended the program to accomplish. A full scope review incorporates all of the previously described review types to arrive at a comprehensive assessment of overall program objectives and impact. A type of limited scope review which came into vogue in the late 1970’s is the sunset review. While incorporating elements of all three major review types, a sunset review is limited in scope by time and legal constraints.
In addition to these more formal types of oversight reviews, PEER staff spends a significant amount of time in performing the following types of legislative assistance:
Requests for PEER reviews originate from a variety of sources including:
A citizen can bring a matter of concern before the Committee for consideration as a PEER project by providing to the Committee a signed written summary of his or her complaint. With the exception of projects authorized by statute or legislative information requests that are neither sensitive (i.e., suggesting improper conduct) nor complex, the Committee must approve any request for a PEER review prior to initiation of the review by PEER staff. The Committee assigns top priority to requests from legislators and legislative committees.
A published report is the most common product of a PEER review. These reports have a standard format which includes a very brief summary of the report on its cover, followed by a more detailed "Executive Summary," the full text of report findings and recommendations, and concludes with the agency’s response to the report. Some PEER reports are available on tape. PEER staff are available to brief committees or individual legislators on the contents of reports.
In its thirty-plus years of operation, PEER has become a significant resource for the Legislature, providing in-depth evaluations of government operations as well as short-term informational assistance. Since its inception, the Committee has published over 470 reports and completed over 2,000 legislative and special requests, including fiscal notes, budget and other limited scope analyses, special investigations, evaluations, and feasibility studies. Annually, the Committee distributes over 2,000 reports to Mississippi legislators, governmental agencies and interested citizens, as well as to public and private entities from numerous states.
PEER’s oversight and review process has resulted in a significant number of actions by the Legislature and state agencies that have resulted in savings, cost avoidance, or additional revenue for the state. In addition, even those reports that were designed to inform or to recommend administrative or policy changes have often resulted in improved public services with the same level of spending.
Legislative oversight is an implied power of U.S. legislative bodies, derived from English tradition which holds that a representative assembly must be informed in order to properly execute its legislative functions. The following quotes argue for the importance of legislative oversight in a representative democracy.
Noted in 14 Gray 226 MASS. 1859:
The power of the general assembly to obtain information on any subject upon which it has power to legislate, with a view to its enlightenment and guidance, is so obviously essential to the performance of legislative functions that it has always been exercised without question.
President Woodrow Wilson made the following convincing argument for the need for legislative oversight at the federal level in his classic work Congressional Government(1885):
It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees. It is meant to be the eyes and the voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents. Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and the disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served and unless Congress both scrutinize these things and sift them by every form of discussion, the country must remain in embarrassing, crippling ignorance of the very affairs which it is most important that it should understand and direct. The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function. The argument is not only that discussed and interrogated administration is the only pure and efficient administration, but, more than that, that the only really self-governing people is that people which discusses and interrogates its administration.
Telford Taylor, Grand Inquest, pp. 5-6, said:
A legislative body -be it the British House of Commons, or either house of Congress, or a state legislature-is endowed with the investigative power in order to obtain information, so that its legislative functions may be discharged in an enlightened rather than a benighted basis.