Senate hearing attacks the value of PR

A Senate hearing this week scrutinizing a government contract awarded by the General Services Administration should serve as a red flag to the PR industry that there is more examination of contracts to come.

A Senate hearing this week scrutinizing a government contract awarded by the General Services Administration should serve as a red flag to the PR industry that there is more examination of contracts to come.

The issues relate to a contract awarded to Jane Mobley Associates in 2010 for media relations support around health risks with the Bannister Federal Complex, a partly government-owned facility in Kansas City.

The alarm bells started ringing because it was a non-bid contract awarded to Jane Mobley just one day after a decision was made to hire a firm. Further issues arise from the fact that the contract was extended for two more months at an additional cost of $134,000, and that Jane Mobley wrote the scope of work.

At the opening of the hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill said she is aware mishandling of awarding contracts is “sprinkled throughout the federal government” and the “award and management of this contract is a case study and it raises very serious questions about GSA, which is responsible for both property and acquisitions for the government and may have fallen short at both.”

The intensity with which Sen. McCaskill questioned the contract at the hearing, coupled with general public scrutiny about how government spends taxpayers' money and what it spends it on, ensures the issue goes beyond just this specific contract.

However, it is not necessarily all bad news for the image of PR. While language coming out of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, such as “hiring someone to help [the government] spin,” feeds misconceptions, it also provides an opportunity for the PR industry to explain its value.

As this contract is broken down piece by piece, mistakes are exposed, but so is the urgency and need to bring in expert communicators during a crisis. The burden falls on the entire communications industry to prove mistakes made in awarding a contract don't necessarily refute the value of the work as a whole.

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