“In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates,” James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual with a more nuanced and complete understanding of that authority than Dr. Walter Oleszek.
As the senior specialist in the legislative process at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Dr. Oleszek is a student of Congress in the truest sense. He has devoted his entire professional life to strengthening the institutions of democracy and improving public life in our country and others. For almost 40 years, his work has provided a framework for enhancing the representation, deliberation and oversight in our national legislature. In addition, this acknowledged authority on the Congress has helped many emerging democracies strengthen their legislative assemblies.
When Members of Congress and their staff need advice with lawmaking or legislative procedures, Dr. Oleszek is the man to see. They rely on his broad knowledge about the intricacies of American government and his distinguished track record in providing expert advice and assistance on various legislative problems. After they’ve sent an issue Dr. Oleszek’s way, lawmakers and professional staff know they can count on an objective and timely response.
Early in his career, Dr. Oleszek worked with the House Rules Committee to revitalize Congress through the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, a landmark bill that reinvigorated the role of Congress in national policymaking. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he played a leading role on a bevy of House and Senate select committees and commissions charged with reorganizing congressional operations.
In 1993, he participated in another effort to make Congress more efficient, this time as policy director on the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress. The group urged, among other things, a major overhaul of the House and Senate committee systems, which Dr. Oleszek has long referred to as “the workshops of Congress.”
Following the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, Dr. Oleszek assisted the House’s Task Force on the Continuity of Congress. The group was charged with ensuring that the national legislature and its leadership would be quickly reconstituted in the event that many members of Congress, not to mention other American citizens, are killed or incapacitated. Dr. Oleszek assisted the Secretary of the Senate on that chamber’s plans to reconstitute itself in the event of a calamity. He also worked with the House Select Homeland Security Committee (2003–2005) whose activities led to the creation of today’s permanent House Committee on Homeland Security.
For the past five Congresses, he has delivered the keynote address at the CRS Seminar for New Members. Essentially, this program gives newly minted representatives an introduction to the ways and procedures of Capitol Hill as well as briefings on the major policy issues confronting the new Congress.
Nations in all corners of the world have also sought Dr. Oleszek’s legislative expertise. As a person of Polish heritage, he is especially proud of his work over several years with Poland’s Parliament. In 1990, he was selected to be a member of an official Senate staff delegation to Poland, which was authorized by the Senate’s adoption of the “Gift of Democracy to Poland” legislation. Dr. Oleszek participated, too, in the House’s parliamentary democracy initiatives. He has assisted the parliaments of Argentina (under a Fulbright award), Brazil, Chile, China, Ghana, India, Japan, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam.
As a scholar, Dr. Oleszek’s contributions to public life resonate far beyond Capitol Hill. Two of his books are standard reading at colleges and universities worldwide. Congress and its Members, now in its eleventh edition, is the leading text on the legislative branch, and Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process, which is in its seventh edition, is the essential guide to congressional lawmaking.
In the classroom, Dr. Oleszek’s unique ability to convey his knowledge with clarity, style and humor has made his government courses at The American University some of the most popular on campus. In 2003, The American University granted him the Adjunct Faculty Teaching Award. Dr. Oleszek has taught continuously for over three decades as an adjunct faculty member.
When he’s not assisting lawmakers and professional staff aides, speaking with foreign parliamentarians, or leading college seminars, Dr. Oleszek also gives counsel to the most important elected official in his life: his wife, Janet. For years, he has helped Janet in her election campaigns, including her successful 2003 campaign to serve as an at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board.
By all accounts, Walter Oleszek’s humble demeanor and self-effacing humor belie his incredible accomplishments. Without question, he would have made James Madison proud.