Transparency in government-sponsored ads
HHS isn’t the only federal agency turning to offbeat marketing campaigns in an effort to remain relevant in the public eye. The U.S. Postal Service has done the same, to similarly mixed response, stirring the beginnings of a conversation about the proper role of government-funded advertising and promotional materials.
There currently are no rules requiring government-sponsored ads to disclose their funding source, but legislation recently re-introduced by Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., would change that. Under the Taxpayer Transparency Act of 2015, publicly funded commercials and promotional materials would be required to include disclaimers stating they were sponsored at taxpayer expense. Last year we highlighted this reform, which was passed by voice vote in the House before stalling in the Senate.
The discussion about government advertising is nothing new. Ten years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office and members of Congress investigated the accuracy and value of Bush administration advertisements related to Medicare. More recently, there has been serious debate about the exorbitant sums spent by the U.S. Armed Forces sponsoring NASCAR drivers.
Last year, while he was still at the Congressional Research Service, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Kevin Kosar authored a report looking at the need for balance in evaluating the government’s role in advertising. Data about government advertising expenditures can be difficult to pinpoint, Kosar explained, but noted that limitations on government advertising are already established by the GAO’s Principles of Federal Appropriations Law.
Rep. Long’s effort to increase accountability in federally funding advertising is a promising step to make government more accountable to the public. Perhaps the legislation will build momentum following last year’s successful passage in the House and receive serious consideration in the Senate, as well.