Labor Department Spent $2,627 a Week on Propaganda Posters

Congress launching investigation into mismanagement of taxpayer funds

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, (R., Calif.) / AP
August 26, 2014

Congress is investigating misuse of taxpayer dollars at the Labor Department, including propaganda elevator posters that cost $2,627 a week to produce.

The posters—including one that featured former Secretary Hilda Solis carrying a bullhorn, rallying alongside the Rev. Al Sharpton, and calling for "collective action"—first appeared more than two years ago.

On Monday, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa sent a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez demanding documents related to the posters and other wasteful spending.

The Oversight Committee has discovered that the agency has spent at least $725,000 on producing the posters and an in-house magazine, entering publicity contests, and promoting a book club.

"This questionable activity has been going on for some time," Issa wrote. "As my staff has learned, in 2009, DOL began producing weekly elevator posters for the 23 passenger elevators at DOL’s headquarters in Washington, D.C."

"According to documents obtained by the Committee, since 2009, DOL has spent $2,627 per week producing new posters, for a total of over $600,000," he said.

The Department of Labor defended the posters as an "effective method of communicating with employees."

Many employees disagreed. In April 2012, when the issue was first reported, employees said they "recoiled at the sight" of the political posters.

"It is propaganda," an employee told the Washington Free Beacon at the time. "This is what being in a Chinese factory during the Cultural Revolution is like."

The posters began appearing shortly after President Barack Obama took office, and were changed every week. Other posters, according to an employee, touted "gay rights, quotes from Obama, and pictures of Obama with quotes from the chairman."

After the posters and other wasteful spending were revealed to the media, a Labor Department senior official cursed out and threatened employees, according to Issa’s letter.

"Upon learning of media reports concerning [Office of Public Affairs] OPA’s wasteful spending practices, OPA Senior Advisor Carl Fillichio organized a meeting with OPA employees," the letter said. "In the meeting, Mr. Fillichio used profane language to criticize employees who allegedly contacted the media and threatened to retaliate against employees who brought OPA’s questionable spending practices to light."

"Mr. Fillichio’s comments are likely to have a chilling effect on OPA employees’ willingness to report waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement—disclosures that are protected by law in many cases," Issa wrote.

Additionally, DOL spent $100,000 promoting a book club, hired the Washington Nationals mascot "Screech" for an agency event, and spent an "inordinate amount of time and money" on an internal publication entitled "Frances Mag."

The agency also spent $25,000 to enter public relations contests, where applications sometimes cost as much as $2,310. The DOL paid for Fillichio to attend one of the awards ceremonies in New York City.

"The public expects the federal government to exercise responsible stewardship of their tax dollars," Issa said. "Congress has highlighted these egregious examples of out-of-control agency spending in an effort to encourage all departments and agencies to curb reckless spending and act responsibly."

Issa and the committee asked the DOL for all documents related to the agency’s "apparent disregard for taxpayer money," including the time and cost to produce the posters, by noon on Sept. 8.