Facing heat from Issa, Obama administration relaxes stimulus ‘propaganda’ requirements

Facing heat from top GOP oversight official Rep. Darrell Issa, key federal agencies are relaxing the rules for large road signs touting progress under the economic stimulus law to merely “strongly encourage” their use, rather than require them.

The signs have become one of the most widely visible symbols of what Issa and other critics charge is an “unprecedented” “propaganda” campaign by the Obama administration to serve partisan ends.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), headed by former Republican Congressman Ray LaHood, said the signs are important for providing “transparency” to the stimulus.

A new, Aug. 17 report by the DOT Inspector General lists the changes agencies have made to their policies on the signs, which feature large “Recovery Act” logos.

Those changes include eliminating any absolute requirements that projects funded by stimulus dollars build promotional signs. But the report also details the elaborate lengths to which the Obama administration has gone to ensure their visibility.

In mind-numbing, bureaucratic detail, Obama-led agencies describe how the “Recovery Act” logo must be the most prominent feature of the sign, which should seek to “minimize any accompanying text.” The “Recovery Act” logo, in fact, should be “roughly twice the height” of the DOT logo, and “no other logos (state, city, county, corporate, etc.) should appear,” Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) guidance states.

For any rail cars built or rehabilitated with stimulus dollars, the FRA suggests a plaque be placed at a visible place in the rail car commemorating the stimulus law.

Thankfully, the Federal Highway Administration allowed projects to prioritize placement of traffic signals and other “higher priority” signs over the stimulus signs for safety reasons.

Although, agencies are for the first time relaxing requirements to build the signs, some of their still-standing “encouragement” comes pretty close. Under the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration, recipients of airport grants are “required” to “strongly encourage the prime contractor” — the party completing the work of the project — to post the signs.

Because contractors typically produce work to the specifications of their clients, it is unclear in what situation such “strong” encouragement would result in the signs not being built, critics say.

Notably, the Obama administration began relaxing the sign requirements around the time Issa – and the stimulus law’s oversight board on his behalf – began pressing the administration on the issue.

DOT stopped requiring stimulus signs July 15. The Federal Transit Administration “updated” its policy to merely “encourage” the signs on Aug. 14, only three days before the DOT Inspector General released his report to Issa. In the meantime, much of the stimulus funding has already gone out the door.

California Republican Issa has been blasting the Obama administration on the stimulus signs and other issues, charging the administration has engaged in an “unprecedented” “propaganda” effort to sell Obamacare and other policies.

“Under one-party rule in 2009, the White House used the machinery of the Obama campaign to tout the president’s agenda through inappropriate and sometimes unlawful public relations and propaganda initiatives,” he said in a report released this week.

In the DOT Inspector General’s report to Issa, DOT said the stimulus signs are “consistent with” the stimulus law’s “transparency and accountability requirements as it allows the public to immediately identify how [stimulus] funds are being used — especially for those without the time, means or technical acumen to find this information on the [stimulus law’s] website,” Recovery.gov.

Editor’s note: this article originally incorrectly attributed the new report to the stimulus law’s oversight board. The DOT Inspector General issued the report. The article has been corrected.