Senators question government PR contract

KANSAS CITY: Senator Claire McCaskill routinely criticized the manner in which the General Services Administration hired and managed a PR firm during a Senate subcommittee hearing on March 1.

KANSAS CITY: Senator Claire McCaskill routinely criticized the manner in which the General Services Administration (GSA) hired and managed a PR firm during a Senate subcommittee hearing on March 1.

The hearing examined why GSA awarded a sole source contract to Jane Mobley Associates in 2010 and why the Kansas City-based firm had responsibility for developing the scope of work and budget for the three-month, $234,000 contract.

GSA is facing media pressure and a federal investigation over the Bannister Federal Complex, a partly government-owned facility that is contaminated with toxic substances that have caused health issues for workers.

GSA awarded Jane Mobley Associates a one-month, $100,000 contract in February 2010, one day after GSA decided to hire a PR firm. The contract was extended for two more months, at an additional cost of $134,000.

Jane Mobley e-mailed a statement that noted the firm supported GSA Heartland Region 6 at a time when two of its three media affairs officials were on leave.

The statement also said that Jane Mobley Associates was "uniquely positioned" for the contract because it is GSA-certified, its offices are located within 20 minutes of the Bannister site, and it had experience providing PR support for government agencies dealing with environment issues. 

McCaskill, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, questioned why GSA didn't tap staff public affairs specialists in Kansas City or Washington to support the federal agency's media relations efforts in Kansas City.

GSA officials cited the “urgent and compelling need" at that time for specialized PR professionals who have experience distilling complex information to the public.

McCaskill also said that mishandled government contracts can lead to “deep-rooted cynicism about the way [the government spends] money.”

Despite McCaskill's criticism of the contract, Gary McCormick, former chair of the Public Relations Society of America, said the hearing showed the strong value of PR and public affairs in providing complex information to the public.

“The hearing put our profession and our value in the right context,” said McCormick.

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