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Kevin R. Kosar, Congressional Oversight of Agency Public Communications: Implications of Agency New Media Use (CRS Report R42406) (Mar. 14, 2012) (full-text).


This report intends to assist Congress in its oversight of executive branch agencies' public communications. Many, and perhaps most, federal agencies routinely communicate with the public. Agencies do so for many purposes, including informing the public of its rights and entitlements, and informing the public of the agency's activities. Agencies spent more than $900 million on contracts for advertising services in FY2010, a figure that does not include all agency communications expenditures.

Since at least the beginning of the 20th century. Congress has enacted three statutory restrictions on agency communications with the public. One limits agencies' authority to hire publicity experts, another prohibits using appropriated funds to lobby Congress, and a third disallows using appropriated funds for "publicity or propaganda." For a number of reasons, enforcing these restrictions has been challenging, not least of which is that these statutory prohibitions do not well clarify licit from illicit public communications.

Many federal agencies have adopted new electronic communication technologies over the past two decades. These "new media" technologies include e-mail websites, weblogs (or blogs), text messaging, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Agencies' use of these new media has implications for congressional oversight of agency public communications. Most fundamentally, the ease of use of new media and the nature of digital communications further complicates congressional oversight and enforcement of the public communications restrictions.