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Van Duyne Gives Statement to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability Regarding Ongoing Investigation into the State Department on Censorship

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing titled “Assessing State Department Compliance with Oversight.” Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne (R-TX), Chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations, waived on to the Subcommittee to give an update on the House Committee on Small Business’ investigation into the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.

Rep. Van Duyne entered a statement from Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, into the record. Both Chairman Williams and Rep. Van Duyne have led the Committee on Small Business investigation into this matter. The statement can be read here.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne’s opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, and thank you to Chairman Mast for inviting me to waive onto this important hearing.

The House Committee on Small Business’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations has been investigating the federal government’s censorship of American small businesses by proxy since the beginning of this Congress.

Our concerns began after the release of the Twitter Files, when investigative journalists unearthed collusion between the federal government, social media companies, exorbitantly wealthy foundations, and so-called “non-partisan fact checking” companies to censor Americans online.

When it was revealed that the State Department, through its Global Engagement Center, funded the Global Disinformation Index, a company that creates blacklists of American media organizations and ranks them by GDI’s perceived “trustworthiness” and “risk,” the Committee took action. The GDI downranked conservative-leaning companies and bolstered left-leaning organizations, ironically including those who were repeatedly guilty of spreading false narratives.

By labeling certain companies as “risky” and “untrustworthy” based on their political views, the GDI’s ranking system interferes with the ability of conservative-leaning small businesses to earn revenue through viewership and advertising.

This is reflected in the GDI’s mission statement, which is to “remove the financial incentive” to create “disinformation” by issuance of its “dynamic exclusion list,” a blacklist disguised by an eloquent name. Advertising platforms are pressured into ending relationships with companies GDI labels as “unreliable,” thereby demonetizing the disfavored companies and redirecting money and audiences to the media companies GDI deems worthy. GDI’s CEO herself said that the dynamic exclusion list “had significant impact on the advertising revenue that has gone to those sites.”

Two of the conservative-leaning, downranked businesses have joined the State of Texas in a lawsuit against State and the GEC to stop the government from actively interfering in the news-media market and attempting to render disfavored press outlets unprofitable. The complaint alleges that by funding the infrastructure, development, marketing, and promotion of censorship technology, the government is covertly suppressing the speech of a disfavored segment of the American press.

Other organizations funded by the GEC have been caught sending lists of accounts to social media companies they label as purveyors of “disinformation” in order to have them removed from online platforms. We now know American accounts were included in these lists. It is a violation of the GEC’s Congressional mandate to act against Americans, and they cannot send taxpayer money to third-parties to accomplish the censorship they are forbidden from doing.

By funding these companies who brazenly claim to “fill the gap” of what the government can’t do themselves, the GEC is violating the First Amendment by proxy. The federal government cannot circumvent constitutional protections by using private actors to accomplish what the State itself is prohibited from doing.

The full extent of the GEC’s censorship scheme remains unknown as the GEC has been uncooperative with investigations into where they are sending taxpayer money. Our first letter to State, which asked for information on grants from fiscal year 2019 to present, was not answered for nearly six months. Even communications with State’s legislative affairs team on production schedules have been limited- responses continue to be incomplete and delayed to this day.

The single document that was finally provided in December was a sliver of what was requested, featuring only cooperative agreements instead of all types of grants, as asked. It appears from the numerical system used for each award that over 100 cooperative agreements were completely omitted from State’s production. Some of the omitted grants are publicly available online, so it is clear State did not fully comply with our request. Further, information that was available on USAspending [dot] gov was redacted in State’s limited production.

These omissions caused the Committee to request more information, including the identity of subawardees, to see where State’s grant recipients were funneling taxpayer money. When that response also went unanswered, the Committee asked for a briefing from a State grant officer to better understand the GEC’s grant issuance and oversight process. This is also pertinent to the Committee’s investigation given that State’s Inspector General found the GEC lacked proper internal controls to ensure contractors did not perform “inherently governmental functions.” However, that request also went unanswered.

When a memo was sent to members of the Committee to update them on this investigation, with additional redactions so as to be sensitive to the nature of the information, we finally received a response from State, though not the one we’d hoped.

When copies of the redacted information appeared in a news article, State wrote the Committee a letter threatening to only share information in-camera moving forward. This is unacceptable and interferes with Congressional oversight. Not only are members of the Committee entitled to this information, but none of it was classified. We will not be deterred by State’s hedging, threats, or obstruction. We look forward to State’s full and faithful cooperation moving forward, but in the meantime, demand accountability for State’s noncompliance.