Vote Explanation for H.R. 1004 — Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017

I voted against H.R. 1004, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017, which would bar federal agencies from communicating through social media and other means to promote or solicit public support for agency actions.

As written, “public communications” would include agency statements, blog posts, audio or video recordings and social media messages. The bill would require agencies to report to Congress every communication to the public — including every oral communication from an agency official — about the five most-communicated regulatory actions the agency issued in the previous year.

This legislation was crafted in response to the EPA’s communications relating to the “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule, which violated prohibitions on raising money for publicity, propaganda, and grassroots lobbying by agency employees. However, after reviewing the entire WOTUS rulemaking process, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the agencies “complied with the applicable requirements.”

Based on the expansive definition of “public communication” in the bill text, virtually any action an agency might take to communicate the benefits of a rule could be viewed as advocating for the rule, publicity, or propaganda. For example, on February 13, 2017, the Department of Energy posted an entry on its blog about wind power stating that ‘‘wind represents a major opportunity to provide power to highly populated coastal cities,’’ and that ‘‘by 2050, the United States has the potential to create 600,000 jobs, save consumers $149 billion, and save 260 billion gallons of water by continuing to increase the amount of wind energy that powers our homes, schools and businesses.” Under this bill, this blog entry could be prohibited as propaganda or publicity.

Consequently, H.R. 1004 would likely restrict federal agency communications with the public in order to avoid the possibility of violating the ambiguous prohibitions in the bill. This poorly crafted legislation could result in less transparent government by leaving Americans in the dark about agency activities.