From Pajama Boy to Green Ninja, the Government’s PR Spending Operates in Dark

Public relations — if only conservatives knew what it was. Here are Lauren Bowman and Romina Boccia writing at The Daily Signal:

U.S. government spending on public relations campaigns, including NASA’s Green Ninja videos on global warming and the Pajama Boy ads for Obamacare, should raise serious questions about fiscal responsibility and where to draw the line between appropriate communication and propaganda.

The government spent about $1 billion annually on advertising and public relations from 2006 to 2015, according to a Government Accountability Office report on such federal spending.

The largest government agencies spent the most, with the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services making up the majority of PR expenditures.

Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., requested the study in an attempt to identify how much the government is spending on PR. As it turns out, it’s quite difficult to separate the government’s spending on public relations from other spending.

The $1 billion figure cited by the GAO excludes numerous possible PR activities such as “signs, advertising displays, and identification plates” because, the agency said, it could not effectively separate them into items used for PR-related purposes as opposed to other purposes.

So much PR spending appears to be largely unaccountable “black box” spending.

Some of this money likely goes toward legitimate public communications purposes, but much of the spending probably is wasteful and some raises concerns that government may run afoul of propaganda rules.

Two primary legal restrictions on government employees are relevant in the context of agency PR spending: the Anti-Lobbying Act and appropriations language that limit spending for “publicity or propaganda purposes.” However, officials generally don’t enforce these provisions.

In addition to this vagueness in defining publicity, propaganda, and lobbying, no congressional committee oversees government communications to make sure agencies follow these guidelines. The GAO does not routinely research and report on agency communications, unless specifically requested to do so.

Read more: The Daily Signal

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