No Strong Indication That Restrictions on Executive Branch Lobbying Should Be Expanded

GGD-84-46: Published: Mar 20, 1984. Publicly Released: Apr 20, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO surveyed executive branch agencies and congressional staffs to determine: (1) what types of agency lobbying activities are considered permissible by congressional staffs and agency legislative liaison personnel, and what types are impermissible; and (2) whether more extensive controls over agency lobbying activities are warranted.

GAO found that laws which restrict the use of appropriated funds for lobbying purposes are ambiguous. The applicable criminal statute historically has not been interpreted as preventing federal officials from directly attempting to influence legislative actions. GAO found that most of those surveyed believed that applicable statutes and written agency guidelines are unclear and unenforceable, except in extreme cases. In addition, GAO found diverging opinions on the ethics of various hypothetical agency lobbying practices. Many congressional staff personnel believed that more direct dialogue between the legislative and executive branches should be encouraged as a counterweight to pressure from private sector lobbies. GAO found little support for stricter controls on executive agency lobbying activities. Many of those interviewed cited other, equally effective deterrents to unethical lobbying activities, such as the threats of media exposure, political backlash, and potential embarrassment. Very few of those interviewed believed that executive branch lobbying constitutes a serious threat to the integrity of the legislative process.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congressional members expressed interest in the report, but no legislation has been enacted to implement the recommendation, and passage of such legislation is not expected.

    Matter: While GAO is not recommending new statutory restraints on executive branch lobbying, Congress should enact one of the currently temporary appropriation restrictions on indirect lobbying into permanent law as section 1352, title 31, United States Code. GAO proposes the following provision: "Except as otherwise provided by law, an appropriation may not be used other than for activities that involve direct communications between executive and legislative branch officials: (1) for publicity and propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress; and (2) to pay the salary or expenses of any grant or contract recipient or agent acting for such recipient to engage in any activity designed to influence legislation or appropriations pending before the Congress."


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