CREW sues USDA for failing to offer PR contract details

WASHINGTON: A citizens watchdog group has filed its second lawsuit against a government agency for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding PR contracts.

WASHINGTON: A citizens watchdog group has filed its second lawsuit against a government agency for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding PR contracts.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on March 16. The suit alleges that the USDA failed to respond to CREW's FOIA request within the mandated 20-day period.

"Questions remain... regarding how much of our taxpayer dollars the USDA spends on PR, which PR firms are involved, and what the USDA is requiring in its contracts with PR firms," said Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director.

Last month, CREW sued the Social Security Administration for also failing to respond to its FOIA request for contract documents with Fleishman-Hillard.

The New York Times has reported that the USDA has a broadcast media and technology center with an annual budget of $3.2 million and produces about 90 "mission messages" for local television stations.

USDA spokesman Ed Loyd noted that the department has entered into contracts with outside agencies. But he declined to give names or discuss how much is spent on external PR because of the multiple FOIA requests currently being handled.

He added, however, that within the next few weeks, the USDA would likely put documentation related to CREW's FOIA request on its website.

Loyd said that one of the outside agencies worked on a program on food stamp eligibility called "Food Stamps Make America Stronger."

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