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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

EPA Breaks the Law

GAO reports on an illegal grassroots lobbying campaign. The abstract:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts with its use of certain social media platforms in association with its "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rulemaking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition though its use of a platform known as Thunderclap that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time. EPA engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA's role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience. The agency's #DitchtheMyth and #CleanWaterRules social media campaigns did not implicate the publicity or propaganda prohibition. EPA also violated anti-lobbying provisions though its hyperlinks to certain external Web pages in an EPA blog post. Both of the external Web pages led to appeals to the public to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS rule, which taken in context, constituted appeals to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation. EPA associated itself with these messages through its decision to include the hyperlinks in its blog post.
From the conclusion of the report:
The use of appropriated funds associated with implementing EPA’s Thunderclap campaign and establishing hyperlinks to the NRDC and Surfrider Foundation webpages violated prohibitions against publicity or propaganda and grassroots lobbying contained in appropriations acts for FYs 2014 and 2015. Because EPA obligated and expended appropriated funds in violation of specific prohibitions, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A), as the agency’s appropriations were not available for these prohibited purposes. Accordingly, EPA should report the violation to the President and Congress, with a copy to the Comptroller General, as required by the Antideficiency Act.28 The agency should determine the cost associated with the prohibited conduct and include the amount in its report of its Antideficiency Act violation.
 28 31 U.S.C. § 1351. The Office of Management and Budget has published requirements for executive agencies for reporting violations. OMB Circular No. A-11, Preparation, Submission, and Execution of the Budget, §§ 145, 145.8, available at (last visited Dec. 7, 2015).