Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Issa Attacks Labor Department's Elevator Posters, PR Contests

'Wasteful' practices included hiring Nationals mascot, publishing employee magazine.

The top House Republican oversight chief has blasted the Labor Department for “frivolously” spending tax dollars on public relations contests, inspirational elevator posters and a trip to a New York awards ceremony.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, charged in an Aug. 25 letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez that his department’s spending on “unnecessary items” violates President Obama’s 2011 executive order promoting efficient spending. Issa demanded that Labor turn over an array of internal documents on the “questionable activity” by Sept. 8.

According to the committee and a February article in National Review, Labor’s wasteful spending included:

  • $25,000 on entry fees for public relations contests from 2010-2014, or as much as $2,310 per application, to win 83 awards;
  • A $375 admission fee for Office of Public Affairs senior adviser Carl Fillichio to attend the 2013 PRSA Silver Awards ceremony in New York City;
  • Weekly communications posters to be mounted in the headquarters building’s 23 elevators, at a cost since 2009 of $600,000;
  • Hiring a Washington Nationals mascot to promote an agency event and spending $100,000 to promote a book club; and
  • Reportedly spending “an inordinate amount of time and money” on an internal monthly e-publication  about employees called “Frances Mag.”

Issa’s letter, which he copied to ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also criticized Fillichio for “using profane language to criticize employees” who may have leaked details of the spending to the media. Those comments, Issa wrote, “are likely to have a chilling effect on OPA employees’ willingness to report waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.”

A Labor spokesman, having just received the letter and document demands, told Government Executive by email Tuesday, “We are responsible stewards of public funds. And we inform the public of our important mission and engage and educate our employees in creative, effective and appropriate ways. Our internal communications efforts make a difference in employee satisfaction, retention and most importantly, performance.  Better performance from our employees translates into better value for the public.”  

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)