WASHINGTON: Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has directed Ketchum to stop all work under its more than $1 million contract with the Department of Education (DoE) while it is being reviewed.
"There were errors in judgment at the Department," she stated in a letter to members of the Senate appropriations committee. "I'm diligently working to get to the bottom of it all."
USA Today revealed in January that the DoE had paid commentator Armstrong Williams $241,000 through Ketchum to promote No Child Left Behind.
The letter was a response to one sent by the heads of the committee on January 12 in which they asked Spelling's predecessor, Rod Paige, for a "careful review of the contract with Ketchum and the payment made to Mr. Williams."
Spellings stated that she had also asked for a review of all DoE contracts and grant-making procedures. The DoE's inspector general is already investigating the Ketchum incident, as directed by Paige.
At the senators' request, the DoE has also provided the committee with a list of contracts and grants from 2001-2004 where PR was the general focus.
The scope of the issue has prompted the Council of PR Firms to convene a task force to counter negative representations of the role of PR in government, and the use of its tools.
"The Council is taking an aggressive position in reaching out to some of the congressional members," confirmed chairman Harris Diamond, who is also CEO of Weber Shandwick.
Diamond added that the public education aspect of much of the work that is done through PR needs to be reinforced.