Feds will look into govt PR spending

WASHINGTON: McKinney & McDowell (M&M) has been forced onto center

stage in a federal investigation over whether the US Commission on Civil

Rights has exceeded its budget on payments to the agency, which recently

helped publicize two of the commission's studies.

A Scripps Howard article from August 15 claimed that the commission had

paid the agency $135,000 for the year, more than double its

budget for outside consultants. The House Judiciary Subcommittee is now

investigating that claim.

However, M&M was hired as a contractor, not a consultant, and is listed

as such by the General Services Administration (GSA). Ed Hailes, general

counsel for the commission, said the money paid to the agency therefore

was not subject to the limits suggested by the article. "The commission

has authority to bring on staff consultants as temporary employees,"

said Hailes, "but the services of (M&M) are under a purchase order, so

they are not employees."

Republican members of the subcommittee say they are unconvinced there is

a legal difference between contractors and consultants.

The accusations have caused a number of government officials to climb

onto their soapboxes. Charles Atherton, secretary of the Commission of

Fine Arts, was one who lambasted the idea of government entities hiring

PR firms. "I don't see how a government agency can go out and hire a

public relations firm," he said. "The federal government is not in the

business of polishing its image. It's in the business of providing

information to the people."

M&M co-president Gwen McKinney countered that the hiring of PR firms by

federal agencies is actually quite commonplace. "One need look no

further than the GSA schedule of goods and services to see the many

numbers of PR firms that are set up to do business with the government,"

she said. "In terms of polishing image, we don't do that. We are not

image makers. We were hired to disseminate information."

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