- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2010

The Department of Housing and Urban Development openly encouraged recipients of stimulus funds to post signs around their projects touting the source of the funding - signs that even included a reference to President Obama.

HUD’s Office of Inspector General said in a memorandum dated Friday that while “HUD’s published guidance did not require its recipients of Recovery Act funds to post signs identifying projects provided by stimulus funds, it encouraged its Recovery Act recipients do so.”

The memorandum was generated at the request of Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, who says the signs are a waste of taxpayer money and an improper political propaganda campaign for the president.

Mr. Issa, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the inspector general’s report “validates the concern that the stimulus signs are taxpayer-funded political advertisements that the administration intended to force on stimulus recipients.”

“The IG found that the tone and language used in HUD’s guidance for stimulus recipients, combined with public statements from HUD officials, made it clear that posting the stimulus signs was ‘highly recommended.’ ” Mr. Issa told The Washington Times. “The administration has tried to defend the signs as a way to provide transparency, but the IG’s report confirms that the signs were closer to mandatory roadside billboards touting the stimulus.”

In fact, HUD provided stimulus recipients with templates for the signs. One of the templates stated: “Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Barack Obama, President.”

The $787 billion stimulus bill, which was signed into law last year, includes $13.6 billion for nine HUD programs, such as public housing, community development and prevention of homelessness.

The inspector general’s office concluded that for two of those programs, HUD initially required recipients to post a sign as a condition for accepting stimulus money.

Mr. Issa wrote in a June 24 letter to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that he was “concerned that a federal agency could have ever imposed such a politicized quid pro quo on recipients of taxpayer dollars.”

Signs announcing projects as being funded by the stimulus bill have become ubiquitous during the past year, but Mr. Issa said HUD’s were the most politically overt.

An Aug. 4, 2009, e-mail from a deputy press secretary with the agency stated the HUD secretary’s preference to “highly recommend (not require)” signs. However, the e-mail also included sample graphics and cost estimates for various banner sizes, which the inspector general’s office concluded were “clear indicators that posting signs was preferred.”

On Aug. 26, HUD issued an agencywide policy on stimulus signs.

“One of the most important goals in implementing Recovery Act-funded programs is transparency,” stated HUD’s written guidance to stimulus recipients. “In support of that goal, we encourage recipients to identify HUD Recovery-funded projects, to the extent possible and reasonable, with clear signage.

“Please understand that this is not a HUD requirement, however it is suggested.”

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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