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Profile: Office of Management and Budget

Office of Management and Budget was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Nixon administration revamps the Bureau of the Budget into the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In 2007, author Charlie Savage will describe the first OMB as “a brain trust of political loyalists who helped the president to manage the sprawling federal bureaucracy so that he would bend its work to his agenda.” By President Nixon’s second term, his top officials are dissatisfied with the results, and decide to take stronger steps. According to administration memos, the new strategy is, as Savage will write, “to politicize the bureaucracy by purging it and then restocking it with ‘Nixon loyalists’ who would ‘retake the departments.’ Agency heads were to send regular reports to Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, about their progress in ‘gaining control of the bureaucracy.’” The efforts will bear little fruit after the Watergate scandal derails the idea. [Savage, 2007, pp. 304] The Reagan administration will revive the scheme (see February 1981 and After).

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Charlie Savage, Office of Management and Budget, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo.Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Herbert Kalmbach, President Nixon’s personal lawyer, has a confidential discussion with Nixon’s close friend, Florida millionaire Charles “Bebe” Rebozo. Rebozo tells Kalmbach that Nixon is uneasy about $100,000 in large campaign donations Rebozo made to the Nixon re-election campaign—two $50,000 donations, one given in 1969 and one in 1970. Rebozo was actually a middleman in the contributions, which originally came from Richard Danner, an executive with the Howard Hughes financial empire. While the contributions themselves are neither illegal nor controversial, Nixon is worried about the disposition of the money. Some of the money went to Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods; some went to Nixon’s two brothers, Donald Nixon and Edward Nixon; and some went to, in Rebozo’s words, “unnamed others.” Campaign donations can only be used for campaign expenses, not personal disbursements, and therefore, Rebozo’s money was likely used illegally. Rebozo has a meeting scheduled with the Internal Revenue Service to discuss the contributions. He wants advice on what to tell them. Kalmbach advises Rebozo to come clean with the IRS, but Rebozo balks. “This touches the president and the president’s family,” he says, “and I just can’t do anything to add to his problems at this time.” Kalmbach checks with a friend, Stanley Ebner, the general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget, speaking strictly hypothetically; Ebner gives the same advice as Kalmbach had. But, when Kalmbach meets a second time with Rebozo, the millionaire no longer seems concerned. Kalmbach will later testify, “I had the feeling that he had made up his mind on what to do before that meeting, and cut me short when he found that I had not come up with a more acceptable alternative” (see Early May, 1974). In January, Rebozo will tell Kalmbach an entirely different story. He had never given any of the money to the Nixon campaign after all, he will claim; instead, he had found all the money in a safe-deposit box, still in its original wrappers. Senate investigators will find that the money in Rebozo’s safe-deposit box was actually supplied as a cover by another Nixon millionaire friend, Robert Abplanalp. [Time, 5/6/1974]

Entity Tags: Office of Management and Budget, Edward Nixon, Donald Nixon, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Herbert Kalmbach, Internal Revenue Service, Richard M. Nixon, Stanley Ebner, Richard Danner, Howard Hughes, Rose Mary Woods, Robert Abplanalp

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Reagan administration officials decide to revive the Nixon-era scheme to use the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to purge the federal bureaucracy of “dissidents” and replace them with loyal conservatives (see 1970 and After). As part of the plan, President Reagan issues an executive order requiring all agencies to submit proposed new policies to the OMB for review before they can be put into effect. [Savage, 2007, pp. 304-305]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Ronald Reagan, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The General Accounting Office (GAO)‘s chief, Comptroller General David Walker, issues a report detailing the history of the GAO’s request for information regarding Vice President Cheney’s secret energy task force, and reiterating its request (see July 31, 2001). The report is sent to President Bush, Cheney, Congress, the attorney general, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It reads in part: “In communications with the vice president’s counsel… we offered to eliminate our earlier request for minutes and notes and for the information presented by members of the public. Even though we are legally entitled to this information, as a matter of comity, we are scaling back the records we are requesting to exclude these two items of information.… The GAO as an institution, and the comptroller general as an officer of the legislative branch, assist the Congress in exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution to oversee, investigate, and legislate. In order to help members of Congress carry out their role and evaluate the process used to develop the National Energy Policy, GAO needs selected factual and non-deliberative records that the vice president, as chair of the NEPDG [National Energy Policy Development Group, the formal name for Cheney’s task force], or others representing the Group, are in a position to provide GAO. The records we are requesting will assist the review of how the NEPDG spent public funds, how it carried out its activities, and whether applicable law was followed.” [David Walker, 8/17/2001 pdf file; National Review, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: National Energy Policy Development Group, David Walker, General Accounting Office, John Ashcroft, Office of Management and Budget, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget informs federal agencies that they can use private contractors instead of the Government Printing Office (GPO). This is supposedly done to save money, but the GPO already sends nearly two-thirds of its work to the private contractor with the lowest bid. Its practical effect is that federal agencies will be able to edit and delete embarrassing passages from their documents. [Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/19/2002] The Los Angeles Times calls the planned switch “a threat to democracy.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002] In September 2002, Congress orders executive branch agencies to continue to use the GPO for its printing. But the Bush Administration says agencies can ignore the order, claiming Congress doesn’t have power over the matter. [Government Executive, 9/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Government Printing Office, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) tells the EPA to use the discounted value of 63 percent for health impacts on senior citizens in calculating cost-benefit analyses when conducting assessments for new air pollution restrictions on polluting industries. [Knight Ridder, 12/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget sends a report to Congress announcing that it will conduct a review of more than 300 regulations—including ones pertaining to the environment and public health—which it has slated for overhaul, reform, or elimination. The review will draw on more than 1700 recommendations from private industry and think tanks. Many of the recommendations would weaken food safety standards, energy conservation standards, and natural resources. Sixty-five of the regulations targeted for overhaul are under the jurisdiction of the EPA. [US Congress, 10/24/2002 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/19/2002; Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 12/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43), US Congress, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the EPA’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) advises the EPA that the report “needs balance” and asserts that “global climate change has beneficial effects as well as adverse impacts.” The office also suggests removing the discussion on global warming completely from the report’s executive summary. “[D]elete climate change or use previously agreed upon material,” writes one staffer at the White House Council of Environmental Quality. Similarly, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy suggests removing a discussion of the potential impacts climate change might have on human health and ecology. The Department of Energy also gets involved, arguing through the White House that EPA should delete any discussion of atmospheric concentrations of carbon because it is not a “good indicator of climate change.” Another official warns, “Take care here and be sure to be consistent with existing administration policy. Let us try to avoid another CAR scenario.” This is a reference to the Climate Action Report (CAR) (see May 2002) that the US submitted to the UN in May 2002. That report concluded that human activities are “causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise.” White House officials also suggest making edits to particular sentences. For example, the OMB asks the EPA to delete the phrases, “alter regional patterns of climate,” and, “potentially affect the balance of radiation.” It also suggests replacing the passage, “changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities,” with, “a causal link between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Several of the edits are made by CEQ chief Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist. According to a congressional investigation, Cooney removes climate change “from a discussion of environmental issues that have global consequences, delete[s] a chart depicting historical temperature reconstruction, and insert[s] the word ‘potentially’ in several places to reduce the certainty of scientific statements regarding the impacts of climate change.” Cooney also advocates the removal of references to a 2001 National Research Council report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures rose significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. Cooney also adds a claim to the draft report that satellite data does not support global warming, and removes a phrase that says “regional patterns may be altered” by climate change. In one memo, Cooney writes, “These changes must be made.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003; US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Philip A. Cooney, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

In an internal EPA memo, agency staff describe three different courses of action the EPA administrator can take in dealing with the changes that the White House has made to the forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003). Over the last several weeks, White House officials have made so many changes (see April 2003) to the climate change section of the report that scientists no longer believe the section accurately depicts the scientific consensus on the issue (see April 29, 2003). The first option suggested in the memo is that the EPA administrator could accept the edits made by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget. The memo notes that this would be the “easiest” road to take, but warns that the “EPA will take responsibility and severe criticism from the science and environmental community for poorly representing the science.” The altered report “provides specific text to attack,” the memo adds. According to the memo, the White House edits “undercut” the conclusions of the National Research Council (see June 2001) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see October 1, 2001). Alternatively, the memo suggests, the EPA administrator could opt to cut the entire climate change section from the report. The last option discussed in the memo is that the EPA administrator could stand firm against the White House’s “no further changes” edict and attempt to reach a compromise. While EPA staff seem to prefer this approach, believing that this is the “only approach that could produce a credible climate change section,” they caution that confronting the White House could “antagonize” officials and that “it is likely not feasible to negotiate agreeable text.” The EPA will ultimately choose to remove the climate section completely from the report. [US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, drafts a proposal that would shift the authority for releasing emergency declarations concerning public health, safety and the environment from federal regulatory agencies to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] “Under this proposal, the White House would decide what and when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis,” an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004] Additionally, the White House office wants the OMB to reside over a centralized peer review process charged with vetting “any scientific or technical study relevant to regulatory policy” produced by the regulatory agencies. The OMB would have the power to reject or accept the outcome of such peer reviews. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2004; Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Commercial permit applications, however, would not be subject to review. Alan Morrison, a lawyer for Public Citizen, commenting on the exception, notes, “If you want to build a dam, or dump a chemical… you evidently don’t need to have peer-reviewed science.” Academic experts who are recipients of grants from an agency whose work is being reviewed would be barred from serving on the review board. But there would be no restrictions against using experts from private industry. [Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004] Though the administration claims that the proposed change reflects President Bush’s commitment to “sound science,” critics say the measure would allow political interests to impede the creation of new regulations by subjecting them to a never-ending process of review and analysis. They also warn that the review process could easily become balanced in favor of industry. Backers of the administration’s proposal include the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, Ford Motor Co., the American Chemistry Council, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (whose members include regulated mining concerns), and Syngenta, a pesticide company. Opponents of the plan include a number of former regulators from the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton including former labor secretary Robert B. Reich, former EPA administrators Russell Train and Carol M. Browner, heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Carter and the elder Bush; and Neal Lane, who was director of the National Science Foundation under Clinton and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. [Washington Post, 1/15/2004; Baltimore Sun, 12/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Syngenta, Bush administration (43), Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Sheldon Bradshaw, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a memo to Roz Rettman of the Office of Management and Budget. The memo remains secret, but it concerns an unspecified piece of draft legislation. It is in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request for documents concerning the treatment of detainees. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Sheldon Bradshaw, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Roz Rettman, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Corps of Engineers submits a draft report package and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the proposed Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) wetlands restoration study (see March 2002-October 2003) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Corps is hoping that the report will be released this month, so it can be used to request congressional authorization in fall 2004 for the plan’s basic framework. But its release is held up by questions from the OMB and CEQ. In February 2004 (see February 2, 2004), the Bush administration will provide formal comments about the plan to the Corps in its 2005 proposed budget, directing the Corps to develop a less costly plan that focuses on narrower, shorter term objectives. [Associated Press, 1/29/2004; Associated Press, 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 4/2004 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It’s a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that’s going to stay that way. We’re very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska’s governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Fish and Wildlife Service releases an economic analysis on bull trout recovery titled, “Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for the Bull Trout.” The study—written by Bioeconomics Inc. of Missoula, Montana—had been commissioned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to serve as the basis for cost-benefit analysis. Once approved, Interior Secretary Gale Norton will use the data from the report to determine whether the costs of bull trout recovery outweigh the benefits. The report estimates that protecting bull trout and its habitat in the Columbia and Klamath river basins would cost between $230 and $300 million over the next ten years. But missing from the published version of the report is a 55-page section demonstrating $215 million in quantifiable economic benefits. The section had concluded that a healthy bull trout fishery would result in increased revenue from fishing fees, reduced drinking water costs and increased water for irrigation farmers. It also included discussion of other benefits not easily quantified in monetary terms. For example, it discussed the positive effects recovery would have on other trout species, in-stream flows and water quality in lakes and streams. Additionally, the missing section noted that there was a “number of published studies have demonstrated that the public holds values for endangered and threatened fish species separate and distinct from any expected direct use of the species.” According to Diane Katzenberger, an information officer in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Denver office, the decision to discard the section was made in Washington. “It did not come out of Denver or Portland,” she explains. But Katzenberger nonetheless defends the decision claiming that it is difficult to assign “a dollar value to a biological benefit.” She further explains that while it is possible to estimate the costs of consultation and of road upgrades and culvert replacements, “We don’t know the dollar value of biological benefits. And no matter what, it would be a comparison of apples to oranges.” [Missoulian, 4/15/2004; Ravalli Republic, 4/16/2004; Washington Post, 4/17/2004] Chris Nolin, chief of the division of conservation and classification at the Fish and Wildlife Service, dismissed criticisms that the decision to delete the section was based on politics. “OMB uses very strict methodology” he says, adding that the OMB has “told us repeatedly in the past to remove this kind of analysis” from public reports. But as The Washington Post notes: “The federal government, however, often publicizes analyses of the benefits of Bush administration proposals for environmental clean-up. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, found $113 billion in benefits over 10 years from provisions of the administration’s 2003 Clear Skies Act.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Office of Management and Budget, Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bush administration (43), Chris Nolin, Diane Katzenberger

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Public administration specialist Philip Cooper determines that during his first term, George W. Bush issued over 500 objections to Congressional legislation that he signed into law. Almost all of his objections were codified in presidential “signing statements,” which have no legal weight per se but have been used by Bush and previous presidents to cite objections or exceptions to legislative provisions. Although the administration’s point man on signing statements is David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s legal adviser and chief of staff, most of the legal objections for the statements are sourced from the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget. 82 of Bush’s signing statements are based on the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power (see January 9-13, 2006), 77 relate to the administration’s perception of the president’s exclusive power over foreign policy, 48 to his power to withhold information required by Congress to protect national security, and 37 to his powers as commander in chief. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007]

Entity Tags: Philip Cooper, David S. Addington, Office of Management and Budget, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic.Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gathers a group of senior subordinates and warns them to stay away from three senators—John McCain (R-AZ), John Warner (R-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who are drafting a bill to govern the handling of terrorism suspects (see December 30, 2005). A Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the meeting will later recall, “Rumsfeld made clear, emphatically, that the vice president had the lead on this issue.” Though Vice President Dick Cheney has, as he so often has done in the past, ensured that his bureaucratic fingerprints are not on the issue, he has already staked out a hardline position for the White House. This time, it came as a last-minute insert in a July 2005 “statement of administration policy” by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where Nancy Dorn, Cheney’s former chief of legislative affairs, is deputy director. Cheney’s staff adds, without the required staff clearance, a paragraph to the OMB’s guidance for the 2006 defense appropriations bill (see July 21, 2005). Among those surprised by the position is Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects. England attempts to clarify the issue (see Late 2005). [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld, Gordon England, Office of Management and Budget, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John W. Warner, Nancy Dorn, Lindsey Graham, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) releases a “Statement of Administrative Policy” regarding the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, the massive appropriations bill for the year. The document is given little attention in the media, but it wields great influence inside the government. Unknown to most OMB staffers, Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer David Addington has gone through OMB deputy director Nancy Dorn—herself a former Cheney staffer—to add a key paragraph to the document at the very last minute, without staff review. The paragraph says, in part, “The administration strongly opposes” any amendment to “regulate the detention, treatment, or trial of terrorists captured in the war on terror.” Addington’s paragraph is a pre-emptive strike at any such legislative attempt to modify or ease the polices towards detainees, especially in a following statement that reads, “[T]he president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto” any such bill. The insertion is part of Cheney’s attempt to head off any possible legislation restricting the administration’s claimed power to hold anyone it chooses in indefinite detention (see Summer 2005). [Office of Management and Budget, 7/21/2005 pdf file; Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Nancy Dorn, Office of Management and Budget, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s non-partisan research arm, issues a report criticizing the government’s sharing of counterterrorism information. Despite more than four years of legislation and executive orders, there has been little progress since 9/11 in sharing information among federal agencies and thousands of nonfederal partners. Deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have repeatedly not been met. The responsibility for the task has also repeatedly shifted since 9/11—from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget, to the Department of Homeland Security, and to the Director of National Intelligence. In January 2006, the program manager in charge of improving information sharing between agencies resigned after complaining of inadequate budget and staffing. The GAO report notes that there is a lack of “government-wide policies and processes to help agencies integrate the myriad of ongoing efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information…” For instance, there are at least 56 different secrecy classifications in use, with different agencies using different terms or sometimes the same terms with widely different meanings. State and local first responders claim they are often left in the dark or overwhelmed with identical information from multiple federal sources. [Washington Post, 4/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Office of Management and Budget, US Department of Homeland Security, George W. Bush, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Government Accountability Office, US Congress, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Screenshot of draft documentScreenshot of draft document [Source: Government Accountability Project] (click image to enlarge)In response to a number of questions for the record (QFRs) submitted by senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding an April 26, 2006 testimony on projected and past effects of climate change, scientists at NOAA submit a document of draft responses to an NOAA legislative affairs specialist for review. The document is ultimately reviewed by individuals at the EPA, Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who suggest a number of changes. For example, the OMB suggests keeping the sentence, “The full range and magnitude of the biological and biogeochemical effects of ocean acidification are still so uncertain that a reliable and quantitative estimate of the likely socio-economic effects is not yet possible,” but removing the sentence immediately following that: “However, healthy coral reef ecosystems are important to both the fisheries and tourism industries and negative impacts on these ecosystems could affect these industries.” According to the OMB, “[a]s written this seems to conflict with the factual first sentence of the paragraph, which adequately answers the question.” In another instance, the OMB recommends adding a sentence that attributes global warming to increasing water vapor, drawing from a quote taken out of context from an article written by scientists Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth. When NOAA scientist James Butler attempts to explain that the edit is not scientifically valid, the OMB insists on keeping the change. Finally, Karl himself enters the fray, recommending a change that the OMB accepts. The Government Accountability Project, which will obtain the draft document that shows the changes, comments, “These two examples show that, while federal climate scientists are occasionally able to correct distortions to scientific findings in congressional communication, political appointees can still introduce inaccurate information that goes unchecked.” [Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 37, 80 pdf file; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 44-46 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Thomas Karl, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James Butler, Daniel Inouye, Office of Management and Budget, Frank R. Lautenberg

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York and a lobbyist for the health care industry, writes two frightening op-eds, one for the Wall Street Journal and one for the New York Post, that make false claims about the Democrats’ health care reform package. In the Journal, she claims that the bill contains a provision that would “pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely,” a claim she has made before (see July 16, 2009). In the Post, she goes much farther, claiming that two of President Obama’s top health care advisers favor denying expensive health care treatments to senior citizens, the mentally disabled, and other “less productive” members of American society. She names Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, the health care adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. She cites a 2008 article by Emanuel in the American Medical Association’s journal, where he wrote that some doctors sometimes go too far, construing the Hippocratic Oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others.” McCaughey takes Emanuel’s words and accuses him of wanting “doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else. Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they’ll tell you that a doctor’s job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.” McCaughey states that Emanuel believes “medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens…’ Translation: Don’t give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy.” She also claims that Emanuel “explicitly” advocated denying health care to senior citizens in favor of providing treatment to younger patients. McCaughey claims that both Emanuel and Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House’s national coordinator of health information technology, favor “slowing medical innovation to control health spending” and denying patients access to advanced medical technology. According to McCaughey, Blumenthal also favors letting “computers tell… doctors what to do.” She concludes: “No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views.… Do we want a ‘reform’ that empowers people like this to decide for us?” [Wall Street Journal, 7/23/2009; New York Post, 7/24/2009] A White House official later notes that McCaughey misrepresented Emanuel’s writings, and that Emanuel was describing positions and beliefs that he opposed in the same articles. ABC News’s Jake Tapper will note that Emanuel’s fellow doctors and medical ethicists know him as a fervent advocate of the rights of dying patients. [ABC News, 7/28/2009] And Emanuel himself will rebut McCaughey’s claims (see August 12, 2009). McCaughey’s previous claims about the dangers of health care reform, including her assertion that reform would encourage doctors to let senior citizens die, have been roundly debunked (see July 23, 2009).

Entity Tags: New York Post, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, David Blumenthal, Ezekiel Emanuel, Jake Tapper, Wall Street Journal, Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research, Obama administration, Office of Management and Budget

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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