GAO report: Administration spent at least $1.6 billion on marcomms since 2003

WASHINGTON: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released yesterday found that since 2003, the Bush Administration has spent at least $1.6 billion in 343 marcomms contracts, including 54 contracts with PR firms worth $197 million.

WASHINGTON: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released yesterday found that since 2003, the Bush Administration has spent at least $1.6 billion in 343 marcomms contracts, including 54 contracts with PR firms worth $197 million.

The GAO report found that PR decreased, from $104 million in 2003 to $44 million in 2004. Spending in the first two quarters of 2005 had surpassed 2004, with $48 million going towards PR.

The report stemmed from requests from the minority office of the House Committee on Government Reform (CGR) one year after it became known that the Bush administration was using what the GAO eventually called "covert propaganda" in the US.

But the CGR minority staff, led by representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), George Miller (D-CA), and Henry Waxman (D-CA), called the $1.6 billion figure incomplete because, among other reasons, it includes figures from less than half of the 15 cabinet-level departments. The figures correspond to spending by the Commerce (DOC), Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Interior (DOI), Treasury, and Veterans Affairs (VA) departments. The GAO recommended only surveying the seven firms that made up the bulk of the spending due to time constraints.

One of the omitted agencies was the Department of Education (DoE), ironic considering the CGR minority staff requested the GAO study after last year's revelations that the Administration had hired Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. Williams received $241,000 from the department, through Ketchum, to tout NLCB in commercials, as well as use his connection with America's Black Forum.

"Careful oversight of this spending is essential given the track record of the Bush Administration which has used taxpayer dollars to fund covert propaganda within the US," said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), in a statement.

But, according to an unrelated report from CGR, total administration PR spending has actually trended upwards from $39 million in 2000 to $88 million in 2004, a 128% increase.  The CGR report found those figures by searching the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) for contracts for the top 40 public affairs firms named by Washington's The Hill publication.

The GAO report included some of the higher figures given to marcomms firms, including Ketchum, whose contracts with the HHS and DOC departments totaled $77 million since 2003. Robyn Massey, Ketchum VP of corporate media relations, confirmed that figure with PRWeek, but said that most of that figure was passed through to advertising and that less than 10% of that figure went directly to Ketchum. Ad firm Leo Burnett USA received nearly $536 million in contracts from the DOD.

According to the study, the Department of Defense got the lion's share of marcomms budget, with Air Force contracts totaling $179 million for everything from regional recruiting efforts to $288 spent to embroider the air force logo on bowling bags.  The GAO also lists 14 contracts worth $1.2 million for VNR programs for the US Census, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and others. 

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