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Rep. Issa Asks: 'How Much Are Taxpayers Being Charged for Stimulus Propaganda Signs?'

Ever see a federal construction sign next to a stimulus project on a street, building, or highway?

Ever wonder how much the sign might cost you, the taxpayer?

Would you guess as much as $10,000 per sign?

In the latest symbol of government extravagance and waste, Pajamas Media has discovered that federal construction signs that officially publicize stimulus projects are costing taxpayers as much as $10,000 apiece.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is questioning the use of public funds to purchase signs advertising funding from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the “stimulus bill” — at construction sites nationwide.

A $10,000 sign at Dulles International. (Photo: Rachel Jeffries)

Issa is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In a letter to Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, Issa notes that the signs — some of which have cost as much as $10,000 — have been strongly encouraged, or even required, by government agencies. This is leading to the “common perception that taxpayer funds are being wasted on what amounts to political propaganda on behalf of the Obama administration.”

In the letter, Rep. Issa requested Devaney’s office collect information for the Oversight Committee on four topics:

— A complete accounting of all guidance issued by any federal agency to recipients of stimulus funds, including federal, state and local agencies, on the posting of signs, logos, or emblems intended to publicly identify the source or expenditure of stimulus funds;

— Whether any federal agency requires, or has required, stimulus recipients to post signs, logos, or emblems identifying the source or expenditure of stimulus funds and whether such agency had statutory authority to do so;

— If any federal agency has relaxed a requirement that recipients post signs, logos, or emblems identifying the source or expenditure of stimulus funds, with an explanation of the decision to do so;

— An assessment of the total cost to the taxpayers from the posting of signs, logos, or emblems identifying the source or expenditure of stimulus funds.

The amount of money involved could be significant. Rep Issa points to a runway resurfacing project at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., as one project with $10,000 signs — an expense that, of course, reduced the money available for the actual resurfacing.

In July 2009, Michelle Breidenbach of the Syracuse paper Post-Standard noted the signs in New York could cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 each to make and install. These were temporary signs which would be thrown away once the projects are completed.

A similar sign in Chicago. Price: approximately $500. (Photo: Caroline Magnuson)

Lee Holmes of the Kansas Department of Transportation said that, depending on the project and the contractor who won the bid, the cost was anywhere from $500 – $750. In Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois, IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman said the signs run $500 each, installed. Don Howe of the California Department of Transportation told PJM via email that, depending on the size of the sign, in California the cost ranges from $550 to $1,350, not including installation costs, which drive the expense higher.  A small sign company in Kansas, Southeast Kansas Sign Company, was contacted by PJM. Owner Frank Lundien was incredulous at the $10,000 figure:

Maybe if it was an internally lighted sign with computer controlled graphics.

Lundien said for a one-off 12 foot by 6 foot sign the price would be somewhere between $1,800 and $2,500 for a metal sign with metal framing. And that, of course, the more that are purchased the lower the cost would be.

According to Recovery.gov, through March 31 of this year the federal government has signed a total of 30,679 contracts, awarded 160,415 grants, and made 1,038 loans — a grand total of 192,132 programs and projects at least partially funded through the Recovery Act. At a conservative estimate of one sign per job (allowing for states that have not given in to pressure for the signs) and a conservative price of $1,000 per sign, this totals more than $190 million — and could easily double that amount.

Rep. Issa’s complaint, however, was not just the cost of these signs, but the political nature of the signs, which he called “propaganda”:

Perhaps the most overtly political guidance on stimulus advertising comes from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provided recipients a suggested sign template informing the public that projects have been “Funded By: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Barack Obama, President.”

Many states have stopped placing the signs after complaints about taxpayer funds being used to pay for signs rather than road repairs. However, according to Issa:

The Federal Highway Administration continues to “strongly encourage” stimulus recipients to use taxpayer money for stimulus signs. The impact of DOT pressure on recipients’ decisions whether or not to post signs advertising the use of stimulus funds on road projects is unclear but raises troubling questions about Administration pressure on state and local governments.

In addition, according to Issa, there is evidence HUD may early on have forced recipients of  block grant program funds designated for Native Americans to sign contracts obligating them “to post these politicized signs as a prerequisite for receiving stimulus funds”:

Although this requirement was subsequently reversed, I am concerned that a federal agency could have ever imposed such a politicized quid pro quo on recipients of taxpayer dollars. Similarly, guidance from the Department of Commerce requires recipients to post signs bearing the “Primary Emblem” of the stimulus in order to identify the expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Rep. Issa points to Department of Commerce language which seems to require the use of the signs:

All projects which are funded by the Recovery Act shall display signage that features the Primary Emblem throughout the construction phase. The signage should be displayed in a prominent location on site.

Rep. Issa said Congress annually inserts language into appropriations bills which prohibits the use of money by federal agencies for “publicity and propaganda,” and has done so since 1952. Further, Issa said, the Government Accountability Office says the prohibition extends to “the use of appropriated funds solely for partisan purposes.”

According to Issa:

The American people understand that self-congratulatory stimulus signs are inherently political.

Issa points out that left-wing commentators have said Obama should do more to tout the AARA and should do so before the November elections.

Issa continues:

It ought to be bad enough that the stimulus has failed to deliver the promised economic growth at a price tag, with interest, that will well exceed $1 trillion. Adding insult to injury by wasting taxpayers’ money on self aggrandizing political propaganda is unacceptable.

(Photo credits: Rachel Jeffries [www.racheljeffriesphotography.com], Caroline Magnuson)

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