Power, Propaganda and Money

Spending appropriated funds for publicity and progaganda in support of an agency’s programs can create problems. Here is an example.

All agencies have a story to tell.

No doubt, most employees working in an agency believe strongly in the product and service they provide. Moreover, agencies often want to expand and grow. Growth can lead to more publicity, more jobs, higher salaries and possibly a good, high paying job in the private sector at a future date.

On the other hand, all agencies are beholden to Congress. Most agencies don’t make money; they spend what they are given by the legislative branch. And Congress doesn’t want agencies using money to toot its own horn by engaging in public relations campaigns.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spent money to create professional video news releases on its programs and services. It distributed the new videos to news programs around the country and staff members worked with news organizations to air the video. Not too surprisingly, the General Accounting Office (GAO) detected a problem.

GAO says that “In a modest but meaningful way, the publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”

And, says GAO, “In limiting domestic dissemination of the U.S. government-produced news reports, Congress was reflecting concern that the availability of government news broadcasts may infringe upon the traditional freedom of the press and attempt to control public opinion.”

The bottom line: CMS used its money in a way that created publicity or propaganda for the agency and spent more money than allowed by Congress for that purpose. So, concludes GAO, CMS violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341, and must report the violation to the Congress and the President.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47