The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a recent legal decision that the Energy Department (DOE) was in violation of the purpose statute when it issued a tweet from the agency’s Twitter account about the agency Secretary’s column on ObamaCare.
Cleveland.com published Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s editorial on July 25, 2017 titled Time to discard the burdens and costs of Obamacare.
The Energy Department’s Office of Public Affairs issued a tweet concerning the column that same day. @EnergyPressSec tweeted: “Time to discard the burdens and costs of Obamacare: @SecretaryPerry” and linked to the Secretary’s column in cleveland.com.
The tweet was deleted later that day, but the agency did acknowledge that the tweet occurred.
GAO said it considered two issues: (1) whether Energy’s appropriation was available for the purpose of tweeting about the Secretary’s column on health care; and (2) whether Energy’s tweet violated the prohibitions on using appropriated funds for grassroots lobbying or for publicity or propaganda.
The purpose statute, 31 U.S.C. § 1301, provides that appropriations are only available for the purpose for which Congress has provided.
GAO summed up its legal decision as follows:
Energy violated the purpose statute, 31 U.S.C. § 1301, when it tweeted about the Secretary’s column on health care. Energy has not shown that its appropriation is available for the purpose of informing the public about health care.
Energy did not violate the prohibition on using appropriated funds for grassroots lobbying or for publicity or propaganda. Neither the tweet nor the Secretary’s column to which it linked contained a clear appeal to the public to contact Members of Congress about pending legislation. In addition, neither the tweet nor the column constituted covert propaganda, purely partisan communications, or self-aggrandizement.
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) had requested the decision from GAO when he filed a complaint about it last year. He said the tweet was “another example of the Trump administration’s illegal and unacceptable use of taxpayer funds for political gain.”
A spokeswoman from DOE said officials were pleased that the GAO report found that neither the tweet nor Perry’s column constituted lobbying, but added that the agency “disagrees with the conclusion that DOE was in violation” of the purpose statute.
The GAO report does not penalize DOE for the violation.