The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in late June agreed to a request from Democratic lawmakers to investigate allegations that HHS spent federal funds on a public relations campaign that attacks the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and pushes for the law's repeal.
Four democratic lawmakers in early June sent a letter to GAO requesting an investigation into whether HHS was "using federal resources to advance partisan legislation" to repeal the ACA. In the letter, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), as well as Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), wrote that, in recent months, official Twitter accounts for HHS had:
- Posted videos of individuals criticizing the ACA;
- Promoted legislation to repeal the ACA; and
- Reposted third-party tweets and videos supporting ACA repeal.
The lawmakers claimed that such actions violate laws banning the use of federal resources to influence Congress and requested that GAO review HHS' public relations campaign.
GAO to investigate
Katherine Siggerud, GAO's director of congressional relations, in a letter to the lawmakers in late June wrote that the agency would investigate the lawmakers' claims and provide a "legal opinion on [HHS'] use of its communication channels to promote health care legislation ... pending before ... Congress."
Siggerud wrote that the investigation would focus on whether HHS violated rules against "grassroots lobbying" and "covert propaganda" by producing social media content that was critical of the ACA and endorsed its repeal.
According to The Hill, it is unclear how far along GAO is in its investigation, but Siggerud had written that GAO would "begin the work shortly." A GAO spokesperson said, at the moment, there is no timeline for the review.
Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at George Washington University, said, "GAO is an extraordinarily valuable tool for provoking oversight." She added, "If taxpayer dollars are being used to sabotage the law, that's a constitutional problem" (Wilson, The Hill, 7/27; Nather/Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 7/28; Wyden et al, Letter to GAO comptroller, 6/14; Siggerud, GAO letter, 6/28).
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