The Government Accountability Office released a 26 page report earlier today saying that the Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” when it performed a social media blitz to encourage the general public to support the controversial Waters of the U.S. rules. The report says the EPA also violated anti-lobbying laws. The WOTUS rules were implemented by the EPA earlier this year, but remain in limbo after being suspended by a federal appeals court in October.
The GAO report details two specific violations. One being a social media blast using sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Thunderclap to reach out to millions of users.
Thunderclap is a new type of social media tool which allows large groups of people to share a single message at the same time. It has been described as an internet flash mob.
People who received the messages would not have known that they came from the EPA. This falls under the label of “covert propaganda” in violation of federal law. The social media effort was a counter-attack against farmers, ranchers, business groups and politicians who called the rules a flagrant government overreach.
The other violation cited by the GAO indicates that the EPA also violated federal anti-lobbying law when one of its public relations officers did not identify himself as an EPA representative when he published a blog post urging people to support the WOTUS rules. The post included a link to an advocacy group who encouraged people to tell members of Congress to stop opposing the rules. These actions made the EPA officer an illegal lobbyist in violation of federal law. The EPA officer’s actions appeared to be in response to Republican leaders moving to block the rules through an amendment to an enormous spending bill which is expected to pass through Congress this week.
Such findings by the GAO are fairly rare. One of the more recent such reports was released in 2004 when the GAO determined that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare violated anti-propaganda laws by secretly paying for news videos which were sent to television stations and aired.
The GAO has ordered the EPA to disclose how much money was spent on these efforts which were found to be in clear violation of federal law. Federal agencies are not allowed to use federal resources to urge citizens to contact Congress and ask them to take certain action on pending legislation.