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senate Bill S. 2722

Should Federal Agencies be Prohibited From Spending Money on Mascots & Swag?

Argument in favor

The federal government’s spending on poorly-recognized mascots and freebies (such as keychains, totes, and fidget spinners) for federal agencies serves no real purpose and doesn’t advance the missions of the agencies in question. While it isn’t a major part of the overall federal budget or deficit, it’s still taxpayer money that should be spent responsibly. Congress’s oversight function makes lawmakers responsible for ensuring that federal funds are spent responsibility at all times, even when the spending in question is a relatively small amount of money.

Just.Dave's Opinion
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12/07/2019
"Yeah, tell the GOP to get rid of that ridiculous orange buffoon mascot! Oh, that's the President, not a mascot?" Beat you to it, libs. You're so predictable. But yeah, stop wasting money on stupid crap. We already have mascots. Dems got the donkey because they're stubborn. Republicans got the elephant because they never forget history, and wont allow dems to change history. And independents got the giraffe so they can see over the mountains of bullshit on both sides.
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12/07/2019
Waste of my taxes. Government obviously has too much of our money! No mascots, no swag!!!!
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Ticktock's Opinion
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12/07/2019
Absolutely. Worked for the DVA for 36 years got an umbrella, sports bag, mug........ I want none of it. Wanted nothing to do with it. The management thought that the trinkets were like the gold stars that kids earned in kindergarten or grade school. They never understood what motivated us. Money sometimes, but better a couple hours of admin leave, a thank you sincerely felt, just respect or honesty. Usually the trinkets never made it home.
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Argument opposed

The money that the federal government spends on swag and mascots works out to less than 0.002 cents per American taxpayer — effectively zero. If Congress wants to get serious about runaway federal spending, it needs to cut entitlements or tax giveaways to the rich, both of which represent far more money than federal agencies’ spending on mascots and swag. Moreover, this bill fundamentally misunderstands the important role swag can have in putting issues and federal agencies at the forefront of people’s minds to raise awareness.

jimK's Opinion
···
12/07/2019
I agree that there are many things that federal agencies should not use taxpayer funds for. But there are many other things that federal agencies can produce to inform the public of government policies, significant events or as inspirational and motivational rewards for individual or team accomplishments- that increase productivity and recognize significant results. This is a catch-all legislation that sounds good at first but without some thought could cause harm as well. This legislation casts a too broad net and is bit penny wise and pound foolish. There needs to be a much better delineation of what is and is not appropriate. As an example, NASA would produce mission patches commemorating significant missions and distribute them to people who contributed to the mission’s success. These were highly prized low-cost rewards that inspired and motivated recipients. Mission patch stickers were also printed and distributed by employees who, often on their own time, would speak to school student assemblies about the scientific accomplishments of these missions- the kids were very excited and motivated about education, especially math and science; and had a commemorative sticker to show their folks and friends- and to remind them of what inspired them. These are really good examples of things that can motivate the workforce and both inform and inspire the public, in this case school kids. Generally, I do not like congressional legislation that goes so deeply into the nitty details of ‘how’ agencies should do every little thing (because it is easy to be prescriptive) and do not address the overall ‘what’ the agency should be doing (because this is hard and requires a lot of deliberation and strategic thought). I think something akin to a policy directive with appropriate ‘where-as’ and ‘what-for’ guidance would be the best approach- not more legislation. I like the old days when legislation was meaningful, carefully worded and kept at a much higher, more strategic level. Damn those new fangled word processors that generate incredibly long detailed documents that never get read by anyone but the author. (I will probably have re-read all this again, later!)
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Scott's Opinion
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12/07/2019
Agencies, like the military for instance, use this stuff to recruit and keep up morale. A blanket policy is a bad idea that a little prudent oversight could solve.
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burrkitty's Opinion
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12/07/2019
Republicans crying about the budget already? I guess they are already resigned to lose and be the minority again. They never care otherwise. See the Republicans tax handout to the corporations and the wealthy.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
    IntroducedOctober 29th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 2722?

This bill — the Stop Wasteful Advertising by the Government (SWAG) Act — would end the use of taxpayer funds for “mascots” and swag to promote government agencies and programs. It would also require the disclosure of all propaganda paid for by the public. 

This bill would specifically: 

  • Prohibit the federal government from spending money to create a “mascot” to promote an agency, program, or agenda, unless such a character is explicitly authorized by statute — like “Smokey Bear” or “Woodsy Owl.”
  • Permanently prohibit public relations and advertising for purely propaganda purposes, allowing exceptions for military recruitment and other specific functions that are authorized by statute.
  • Require agencies to publicly disclose spending on public relations and advertising.
  • Prohibit the purchase and distribution of “swag” — merchandise such as buttons, coloring books, fidget spinners, keychains, koozies, or stickers, for example — by federal agencies, unless explicitly authorized by statute, like medals awarded for sacrifice or meritorious service.

Certain popular mascots, such as Smokey Bear (“Only you can prevent forest fires!”) and Woodsy Owl (“Give a hoot, don’t pollute!”) would be spared by this bill.

Impact

Federal agencies; federal agency mascots; federal agency swag; and federal agency spending on mascots and swag.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 2722

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced this bill to prevent federal agencies from spending taxpayer dollars on mascots and freebies that don’t meaningfully advance their respective missions: 
“As an Iowa State Cyclone fan, I’ll be the first to say that mascots can be fun. But there is no justification for spending a quarter of a million dollars in taxpayer money on mascots and millions more on swag. These costs come at the expense of real national priorities. The $1.4 billion spent on government PR and advertising every year, for example, is twice the amount dedicated to breast cancer research. It’s time to bag the swag.”

In other comments, Sen. Ernst argues that federal spending on swag and mascots is "not really serving the interest of the taxpayers.” She says the federal government has no business spending money on things like mascots, “drink koozies and Snuggies, if you can believe it.” She adds, “We don’t need the Green Reaper. We don’t need to be spending upwards of $605,000 on coloring books, you know; this is not what we should be spending on as a federal government.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Joel Griffith says that federal spending on mascots and swag is “a drop in the bucket.” However, he also says it’s illustrative of the overall “enormity” of the runaway federal budget and that there are people who benefit from federal spending on swag.

Executives in the ad specialty space have criticized this legislation, saying that the proposed ban on swag spending reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the value that promotional products bring in helping private and public entities cost-effectively achieve important objectives. Timothy M. Andrews, President and CEO of the Advertising Speciality Institute (ASI), a U.S.-based organization and technology provider that serves a network of 23,500 suppliers, distributors and decorators of logoed promotional products in 55 countries, says: 

“Promotional products are a cost-effective way to communicate, build momentum, guide behaviors and educate people about services and opportunities offered by government agencies at all levels.” 

Kevin McHargue, a partner at PromoPlacement, a recruitment firm that serves the promotional products industry, argues that promotional products are an effective medium for government that “work[s] to carry a wide range of messages directly to the target market. From controlling drug use to educating seniors on benefits to commemorating a visit to an historical location, promotional products put the message in target recipients’ hands.”

Paul Bellantone, President and CEO of Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), an association serving more than 15,500 corporate members of the promotional products industry, adds, “It would be counterproductive for Congress to pass a bill that would eliminate any opportunity for the government to use promotional products in a powerful and effective manner.” Melissa Ralston, chief marketing officer at BIC Graphic North America, adds: 

“Specifically calling out promos as a way to cut spending doesn’t make sense when there are more costly and less effective advertising mediums that could also be considered. That’s especially so when you consider the power that promotional items have in connecting people to a memorable experience or message, and the 500,000 jobs our industry supports.”

The Week’s Kathryn Krawczyk points out that the spending this bill targets represents a mere .002 cents per American taxpayer. She adds, “Overall, the federal government spent a total of $250,000 on the mascots last year. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017, which Ernst voted to enact, is meanwhile expected to cost at least $1.5 trillion.”

Similarly, The Federalist writer Tristan Justice argues that Congress needs to get serious about tackling entitlements, not swag, if it wants to make a dent in the U.S. debt crisis: 

“While reducing reckless spending might slightly help the nation’s finances, Congress must address entitlements if it hopes to fend off the inevitable crisis facing the country saddled with nearly a $23 trillion national debt and many multiple times that number in unfunded liabilities… In the 2019 fiscal year, the federal government surpassed the $1 trillion-dollar spending mark on the Social Security program this year with a 5.7 percent increase from 2018. The Medicare program saw a 10.6 percent hike from $589 billion spent on the program in 2018 to $651 billion spent in 2019. Ernst’s proposed cuts would be a drop in the bucket compared to the cuts needed to truly balance the federal budget.”

This legislation has two Republican cosponsors.


Of NoteIn 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the federal government spends about $1 billion on advertising and public relations contracts. According to Sen. Ernst’s office, that includes over $250,000 spent on the construction of custom-made costumes for “mascots,” such as The Green Reaper (which the Dept. of Energy uses in school visits to encourage elementary school children to conserve energy), Brite the Light Bulb (which the Dept. of Defense’s U.S. Navy Installation Command’s Shore Energy program uses to promote energy conservation), and Franklin the Fair Housing Fox (which the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity says the office hopes “will lead to greater housing opportunities for all”).

Sen. Ernst’s office reports that government agencies have also spent: 

  • $605,000 on coloring books;
  • $60,000 on key chains;
  • $33,000 on snuggies;
  • $17,000 on koozies; and
  • $16,000 on fidget spinners.

Additionally, federal agencies have used federal dollars to buy fake Facebook fans (the State Dept. paid $630,000 for two Facebook campaigns to increase the number of fans of its English Facebook pages from about 100,000 to more than two million per page) and to send social media influencers to the filming sites of popular U.S. television shows in an effort to promote American values. 


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture via Flickr / Creative Commons)

AKA

SWAG Act

Official Title

A bill to prohibit agencies from using Federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for other purposes.

    "Yeah, tell the GOP to get rid of that ridiculous orange buffoon mascot! Oh, that's the President, not a mascot?" Beat you to it, libs. You're so predictable. But yeah, stop wasting money on stupid crap. We already have mascots. Dems got the donkey because they're stubborn. Republicans got the elephant because they never forget history, and wont allow dems to change history. And independents got the giraffe so they can see over the mountains of bullshit on both sides.
    Like (57)
    Follow
    Share
    I agree that there are many things that federal agencies should not use taxpayer funds for. But there are many other things that federal agencies can produce to inform the public of government policies, significant events or as inspirational and motivational rewards for individual or team accomplishments- that increase productivity and recognize significant results. This is a catch-all legislation that sounds good at first but without some thought could cause harm as well. This legislation casts a too broad net and is bit penny wise and pound foolish. There needs to be a much better delineation of what is and is not appropriate. As an example, NASA would produce mission patches commemorating significant missions and distribute them to people who contributed to the mission’s success. These were highly prized low-cost rewards that inspired and motivated recipients. Mission patch stickers were also printed and distributed by employees who, often on their own time, would speak to school student assemblies about the scientific accomplishments of these missions- the kids were very excited and motivated about education, especially math and science; and had a commemorative sticker to show their folks and friends- and to remind them of what inspired them. These are really good examples of things that can motivate the workforce and both inform and inspire the public, in this case school kids. Generally, I do not like congressional legislation that goes so deeply into the nitty details of ‘how’ agencies should do every little thing (because it is easy to be prescriptive) and do not address the overall ‘what’ the agency should be doing (because this is hard and requires a lot of deliberation and strategic thought). I think something akin to a policy directive with appropriate ‘where-as’ and ‘what-for’ guidance would be the best approach- not more legislation. I like the old days when legislation was meaningful, carefully worded and kept at a much higher, more strategic level. Damn those new fangled word processors that generate incredibly long detailed documents that never get read by anyone but the author. (I will probably have re-read all this again, later!)
    Like (73)
    Follow
    Share
    Agencies, like the military for instance, use this stuff to recruit and keep up morale. A blanket policy is a bad idea that a little prudent oversight could solve.
    Like (44)
    Follow
    Share
    Republicans crying about the budget already? I guess they are already resigned to lose and be the minority again. They never care otherwise. See the Republicans tax handout to the corporations and the wealthy.
    Like (43)
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    This isn't the wasteful government spending that we're concerned about. How about concerning yourselves about the billions in revenue that we're losing each because of corporate welfare and tax cuts, also include the exorbitant tax cuts for the wealthy. You could also address that boondoggle that is currently happening on our southern border. Come up with some real and meaningful legislation that doesn't show your contempt for your constituents.
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    Waste of my taxes. Government obviously has too much of our money! No mascots, no swag!!!!
    Like (23)
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    Absolutely. Worked for the DVA for 36 years got an umbrella, sports bag, mug........ I want none of it. Wanted nothing to do with it. The management thought that the trinkets were like the gold stars that kids earned in kindergarten or grade school. They never understood what motivated us. Money sometimes, but better a couple hours of admin leave, a thank you sincerely felt, just respect or honesty. Usually the trinkets never made it home.
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    This is such a minuscule portion of our taxpayer dollars that would barely make a difference. These mascots also somewhat benefit the agencies and make them more easily identified. If it wasted a bunch of money, sure, but this is almost 0 dollars. Why don’t we cut funding for other wasteful programs and agencies instead? That would make a significant difference.
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    This is pennies compared to the real cuts that need to happen.
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    This is what you are spending your energy on Joni ? 😠
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    Come on man... now this is stupid!
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    Seriously?!?Trump has spent 115 million just on his golf trip alone. That’s 215 years of presidential salaries. The Big Oil, Insurance, and Pharma get billions of corporate welfare on top of their skyrocketing profits. And his tax cut package mostly went to the ultra rich. I seriously doubt a few keychains matter much and help raise awareness of federal programs.
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    You’re basically asking if a federal agency should have a marketing & PR budget & they answer to that is a yes.
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    I feel genuinely conflicted, as there are likely as campaigns and swag being generated by federal agencies which aren’t a good use of money. However, this spending seems to be minuscule compared to the budgets of these agencies, and I do worry that the wording of the bill is overly broad. I’m all for reducing waste, but sometimes spending on seemingly silly things like mascots can be important for engaging public interest, which can be important for ensuring that Americans know what federal agencies can do for them.
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    I happened to learn a lot from Smokey the Bear! And, in the 2nd grade, I got photos of the lunar landing from NASA that inspired my love of science! You cannot ban all mascots & swag! If it is purposeful or educational, then it should continue to be funded. If you would like to save money, I suggest you cut out the golf trips to the president’s own resort!
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    If the legislature would spend their time working on things they are responsible for they would not have the time to micromanage every one else. Quit wasting our money! #RjGonCountable
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    To broad of a policy it can’t be greatly used for positivity in the life’s of children. Especially when looking at some like Smokey the bear. It allows for recurring options for the military or moral in academy football games. Now we could break this up into certain parts of bills to be positive in decrease some spending but should a lot for certain exemptions.
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    Yes, why? Because it makes sense!
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    As abuses go this one is negligible--if it can even be considered abuse which is arguable. Worry about the gargantuan misspending on a wall between the US and Mexico. A wall that will purportedly fix a Trumped-up problem [pun intended]
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    Any program or effort, inclusive of promotional items, need to be reviewed/justified. In this case, how do we know the investment on mascots & swag has an impact on what we are trying to accomplish? While some may dismiss the review because, in comparison, the costs are smaller, every dollar matters when we have a deficit like we do. Additionally, asking a promotional company to express their opinion on the subject matter, to justify the cost, makes no sense at all. What we need to do is show proof.
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