PHILADELPHIA: The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has been charged with overspending and misappropriating more than $1 million dollars over the past two years to seven PR consultants.The charges were made in the lead story in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, which reported that the housing authority gets most of its money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Federal regulations bar federal money from being used to pay the "costs of advertising and public relations designed solely to promote the government unit,
according to the US Office of Management and Budget.
PHA executive director Carl Greene told PRWeek, "I don't apologize for making communications a high priority. We have a lot of issues to communicate to a large community that is racially and politically diverse."
Greene was keen to put the cost in context of the authority's overall budget. "PHA has a $527 million annual budget, so we're talking about less than one-hundredth of one percent to fulfill our obligation to keep our constituents informed about how we spend it,
explained Greene. "Our board approved these procurements. We spend 10 times that with other consultants.
Why not question those? It takes all the professions to make a well-run organization."
The Inquirer reporter, Ken Dilanian, said he was motivated by several factors. "I was looking at the vendor list and saw a number of PR firms, so I wondered what they do. PR is unquantifiable and nebulous,
he criticized. "These are not your traditional PR firms.
Many of them do government relations and have political ties to different factions. The key questions are whether it complies with HUD regulations and whether it passes the 'smell test' with the public."
The Inquirer contacted major public housing authorities in other cities and reported that most pay employees to provide information to the public and the news media. Some officials "expressed amazement
about Philadelphia's use of external consultants.
One of PHA's agencies is Snowline Communications. Its president, Larry Ceisler, said, "They only have one person (internally). She can't handle it all. Different agencies in different cities do it in different ways.
PHA outsources a lot."
As a result of the Inquirer article, HUD is reviewing the PHA's contracts with these agencies. Greene said his response will likely be to hire more internal staff and scale back his use of PR consultants.