WASHINGTON: McKinney & McDowell (M&M) has been forced onto center
stage in a federal investigation over whether the US Commission on Civil
Rights has exceeded its budget on payments to the agency, which recently
helped publicize two of the commission's studies.
A Scripps Howard article from August 15 claimed that the commission had
paid the agency $135,000 for the year, more than double its
budget for outside consultants. The House Judiciary Subcommittee is now
investigating that claim.
However, M&M was hired as a contractor, not a consultant, and is listed
as such by the General Services Administration (GSA). Ed Hailes, general
counsel for the commission, said the money paid to the agency therefore
was not subject to the limits suggested by the article. "The commission
has authority to bring on staff consultants as temporary employees,"
said Hailes, "but the services of (M&M) are under a purchase order, so
they are not employees."
Republican members of the subcommittee say they are unconvinced there is
a legal difference between contractors and consultants.
The accusations have caused a number of government officials to climb
onto their soapboxes. Charles Atherton, secretary of the Commission of
Fine Arts, was one who lambasted the idea of government entities hiring
PR firms. "I don't see how a government agency can go out and hire a
public relations firm," he said. "The federal government is not in the
business of polishing its image. It's in the business of providing
information to the people."
M&M co-president Gwen McKinney countered that the hiring of PR firms by
federal agencies is actually quite commonplace. "One need look no
further than the GSA schedule of goods and services to see the many
numbers of PR firms that are set up to do business with the government,"
she said. "In terms of polishing image, we don't do that. We are not
image makers. We were hired to disseminate information."