GAO exonerates HHS for funding Andy Griffith ads

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Nov. 1, 2010

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The Dept. of Health and Human Services did not violate any rules when it produced and aired three, 30-second television advertisements earlier this year featuring actor Andy Griffith touting the benefits of the health system reform law, an Oct. 19 report from the Government Accountability Project concluded. It also concluded that there was no violation when the agency contracted with an economist.

Reps. Darrel Issa (R, Calif.) and Dave Camp (R, Mich.) asked the congressional watchdog agency to investigate whether HHS violated policy that bans them from using public money for publicity or propaganda purposes when it awarded economist Jonathan Gruber a contract on March 25, 2009, for technical assistance, and when it used money to produce and air the television ads.

HHS asked Gruber to help them analyze various health reform proposals and identify cost and coverage implications. GAO stated that "although the economist made public statements and authored opinion pieces on health care policy, HHS did not contract for these services and had no involvement with these activities." After the health system reform law was enacted, HHS contracted with a public relations firm to produce the Griffith spots. The ads also did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition "because they clearly identified their source, were not self-aggrandizing and were not a purely partisan activity," GAO said. The agency did say, however, that two of the advertisements overstated one of the laws benefits when it said beneficiaries will "have guaranteed benefits."

Note: This item originally appeared at

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