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Affluent Christian Investor | October 22, 2017

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Note To Trump: Cut Useless, Unauthorized Spending And Here’s The Place To Start

Donald John Trump, Republican candidate for United States President (Photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA) (Resized/Cropped)

Donald John Trump, Republican candidate for United States President
(Photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA) (Resized/Cropped)

Let’s take Donald Trump at his word that he means to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. One aspect of that swamp is the way federal agencies spend money on public relations and outright propaganda.

The erosion of budgetary constraints over time has led to a situation wherein federal agencies (many of which have scant constitutional authorization in the first place) get piles of money to spend as the officials choose. No one should be surprised to find that they like to hire public relations specialists or contract with outside firms for material that makes them look good and their agencies utterly essential to the public welfare.

Recently the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a study of such spending at the request of Wyoming’s Senator Mike Enzi, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. The GAO’s report on federal public relations spending shows that government agencies go through more than a billion dollars each year.

Total Executive branch spending on public relations and advertising comes to about $1.5 billion. Agencies spending roughly $1 billion on contracts with PR firms and employ some 5,000 employees who are paid almost $500 more for PR work. Those people are paid quite well – the median salary is $90,000. The agency that spends the greatest percentage of its budget on flackery is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the agency with the highest percentage of PR personnel on staff was the Federal Elections Commission. The agency that has increased its spending on PR the most over the last decade is the one that arguably has the worst image – Veterans Affairs.

Remember that unctuous “Pajama Boy” ad designed to dragoon as many Americans as possible into enrolling in Obamacare? The taxpayers footed the bill for that bit of propaganda on behalf of one of the most ill-conceived fiascos in our history.

The civil servants at NASA have gotten into the spirit with their “Green Ninja” campaign that’s meant to get children to become environmentally conscious. Now retired Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn featured it in his 2013 “Wastebook,” saying that it’s supposed to make school kids into climate warriors through classroom lessons and YouTube cartoons. Environmental scaremongering is no part of NASA’s mission, yet this cost us $390,000.

Arguably the most obnoxious of all these expenditures was one by the Department of Labor aimed at increasing public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage. It sent out a tweet with a video where someone writes “Raise the Wage” in mustard on a hot dog. The message is that hot dog vendors only make $9 per hour and therefore the government should mandate that they be paid more. Advocacy groups have lots of donated money to spend on propounding the ridiculous idea that prosperity comes from federal decrees. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pitch in, but they do.

Writing last year on Forbes about the distressing publicity waste in the federal government, Open the Books founder Adam Andrzejewski said,

“Spending $70 per hour for telemarketers, $88 per hour for interns, $275 per hour for graphic designers, and $525 per hour for ad executives has little to do with transparency and everything to do with self-promotion. It’s how an agency gets a bigger budget next year.”

No one should be surprised to hear that our government officials will resort to taxpayer funded “spin” to feather their nests. That’s been a part of the m.o. of government officials since time out of mind. They all face the problem of potential revolt, either violent or peaceful, from people who don’t really enjoy being lorded over and taxed. So they have to try to manipulate people’s thinking to get them to believe that the government is their friend and servant, thereby legitimating their rule.

Monarchs of old hired court historians to exclaim the wonders of the king and his forebears. In modern democracies we hire PR consultants.

For an analysis of governments’ need for thought control, Murray Rothbard’s essay “Anatomy of the State” must reading.

Our government, however, was supposed to be different. It was supposed to subordinate the power of the state to the common good by strictly limiting what the officials could do. Unfortunately, the Constitution’s written limits proved no match for politicians and bureaucrats eager to augment their power.

So, what if anything can be done about these wasteful and often illegal outlays?

Representative Billy Long of Missouri has introduced a bill, the Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2015, that would require federal agencies to disclose that their ads and media have been produced at government expense. I don’t think that would help much. After all, who bothers to read fine print like that?

In their September, 2015 Washington Post piece, “How the American government is trying to control what you think” John Maxwell Hamilton of the Woodrow Wilson Center and Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, state,

”Congress should direct agencies to annually inventory the number of public communications they produce, the number of staff who assist in communications,, and the approximate cost. These reports should additionally reference whatever laws authorize agencies to communicate with the public and for what purpose.”

Writing last year on Forbes about the distressing publicity waste in the federal government, Open the Books founder Adam Andrzejewski said,

“Spending $70 per hour for telemarketers, $88 per hour for interns, $275 per hour for graphic designers, and $525 per hour for ad executives has little to do with transparency and everything to do with self-promotion. It’s how an agency gets a bigger budget next year.”

No one should be surprised to hear that our government officials will resort to taxpayer funded “spin” to feather their nests. That’s been a part of the m.o. of government officials since time out of mind. They all face the problem of potential revolt, either violent or peaceful, from people who don’t really enjoy being lorded over and taxed. So they have to try to manipulate people’s thinking to get them to believe that the government is their friend and servant, thereby legitimating their rule.

Monarchs of old hired court historians to exclaim the wonders of the king and his forebears. In modern democracies we hire PR consultants.

For an analysis of governments’ need for thought control, Murray Rothbard’s essay “Anatomy of the State” must reading.

Our government, however, was supposed to be different. It was supposed to subordinate the power of the state to the common good by strictly limiting what the officials could do. Unfortunately, the Constitution’s written limits proved no match for politicians and bureaucrats eager to augment their power.

So, what if anything can be done about these wasteful and often illegal outlays?

Representative Billy Long of Missouri has introduced a bill, the Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2015, that would require federal agencies to disclose that their ads and media have been produced at government expense. I don’t think that would help much. After all, who bothers to read fine print like that?

In their September, 2015 Washington Post piece, “How the American government is trying to control what you think” John Maxwell Hamilton of the Woodrow Wilson Center and Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, state, ”Congress should direct agencies to annually inventory the number of public communications they produce, the number of staff who assist in communications,, and the approximate cost. These reports should additionally reference whatever laws authorize agencies to communicate with the public and for what purpose.”

That might help marginally, but probably wouldn’t have much deterrent effect. Bureaucrats who think they ought to be proselytizing for higher minimum wages or for climate change alarmism will probably think of ways to make their programs look acceptable.

I certainly don’t want to discourage Congress from trying to reassert its constitutionally proper power of the purse to crack down on the bureaucratic PR extravaganza, but the more direct and effective attack on it should come from the White House. President Trump can direct all of his cabinet officers to eliminate needless and unauthorized spending – and not only on PR stuff.

He should let each one know that his or her job tenure depends on cutting out inappropriate spending and failure will mean hearing those words for which he is most famous: “You’re fired.”

 

Originally published on Forbes.

 

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