Nonprofit puts a price tag on federal PR activity

The nonprofit OpenTheBooks said the federal government spent more than $4 billion on communications from the 2007 fiscal year through 2014.

WASHINGTON: One nonprofit is criticizing the federal government’s use of external PR firms, which has jumped over the past seven years.

Transparency organization OpenTheBooks examined federal spending on PR firms in its report entitled, "The Department of Self-Promotion," released this week.

It also found that 139 federal agencies spent $2.02 billion on 2,403 outside PR vendors for more than 16,000 individual transactions since 2007, despite nearly 3,100 federal PR staffers, a number that increased by 15% from 2007 to fiscal year 2014. Federal PR employees are spread across 200 agencies, the report stated.

In total, OpenTheBooks calculated $4.35 billion spent on federal public affairs salaries, bonuses, and outside contractors over seven years.  

The top 10 federal agencies on the list each spent more than $50 million from the 2007-14 period, representing more than two-thirds of outside PR spending during that time, according to The Hill.  

The report lists specific government expenditures, including $23.6 million spent on public relations services related to Afghanistan by the US Army, most of which went to Virginia-based SOS International. More than $115 million went to services labeled "event."

The report also singled out a few high-spending departments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $96.6 million from 2007 to 2014, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent $412.7 million, and the Department of the Army spent $254.9 million. Spending by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration totaled $163 million over seven years.

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