Wednesday, February 23, 2005

CREW Files Complaint AGAINST SSA



SSA Paid Fleischman-Hillard $1.8 million

Washington, DC, February 23, 2005 -- Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the District Court for the District of Columbia for failing to produce documents pursuant to Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). CREW had asked SSA to produce any records relating to contracts SSA may have entered into with any public relations firms.

CREW filed a FOIA with SSA on January 11, 2005 after learning that the Department of Education had paid pundit Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days, but in violation of the law, SSA failed to respond to CREW’s request.

The SSA has been promoting the idea that Social Security is facing a crisis. Callers to the SSA listen to a taped message highlighting the crisis and notices of benefits now include the following language:

“....the Social Security system is facing serious future financial problems, and action is needed soon to make sure that the system is sound when today’s younger workers are ready for retirement...Unless action is taken soon to strengthen Social Security, in just 14 years we will begin paying more benefits than we collect in taxes...We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to provide a foundation of protections for future generations as it has done in the past.”

Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said “although we know that the Social Security Administration has been actively promoting the idea that Social Security is facing a crisis and we know that SSA has paid Fleischman-Hillard nearly $1.8 million since September 2003, we don’t know what role, if any, Fleischman-Hillard has played in manufacturing that crisis. This is what we first tried to learn by filing the FOIA request and what we are now trying to learn by filing a lawsuit.”

“This Administration has a demonstrated pattern of misrepresenting important information to the public. The Social Security Administration must abide by the law and divulge any contracts that were intended to unduly influence the American people,” Sloan added.

CREW has filed FOIAs with 22 agencies requesting copies of all contracts with public relation firms, including Fleischman-Hillard.

A copy of CREW’s complaint can be found on the web at or by contacting Naomi Seligman by phone at 202.588.5565 or

It's one thing to spend money to promote existing law - there's a bit of a grey area in which you can pretend you're simply informing the public rather than promoting an agenda. But, to use government money to explicitly promote a political agenda...