Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Tuesday December 8th, 2015, 5:52pm

Federal Government Spending Big Bucks On Public Relations Efforts

The federal government has spent a whopping $4 billion on public relations efforts since 2007, according to a new report by Open the Books, a project of American Transparency, a non-partisan, non-profit organization.

The watchdog group found that more than half of the funds have gone to the nation's largest PR firms, including Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Inc. and Ketchum Inc. Additionally, the federal government is now employing more than 3,000 public relations professionals, which is a 15 percent increase from seven years ago. The report's authors argue that the exorbitant amount of money being spent on information campaigns are about more than transparency.

"Our motivation is clear, simple and straightforward. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. Federal agencies, however, not only resist transparency but often pretend to be transparent when, in reality, they are engaged in self-promotion," the report, called The Department of Self-Promotion, reads. "Too often, they use their charge to disclose information as a cover for public relations campaigns that are designed to advance their interests (i.e. their desire for more funding and higher salaries) rather than the public interest."

The report, according to its authors," examines cases when federal agencies go beyond making information available and engage in self promotion. To be clear, we always applaud agencies who make information available. That is our core mission. But, again, agencies are not charged with making that information interesting or newsworthy. Agencies certainly aren't charged with using taxpayer funds to engage in thinly-veiled propaganda campaigns that are primarily designed to protect their budgets and hype outcomes."

Of the more than $4 billion spent on public affairs efforts since 2007, some $36.5 million was spent on polling residents of foreign countries for their opinions on numerous issues; about $17.5 million went towards IRS customer satisfaction polls; and almost $11 million was paid out as performance bonuses for PR employees at federal agencies, with one employee of the Department of Health and Human Services receiving close to $36,000 in FY 2012.

Here are some other key points from the report, according to Open the Books:

  1. The federal government spent $4.34 billion on public relations in the last seven years.
  2. U.S. Government ranked 2nd largest Public Relations Firm in the World (based on the number of PR employees).
  3. 3,092 federal 'Public Affairs Officers' are employed by over 200 federal agencies in FY2014.
  4. 1,858 'Public Affairs Officers' made at least $100,000 in base salary compensation in FY2014.
  5. Salaries totaling $2.337 billion and 'performance bonuses' totaling $10.929 million flowed to public affairs officers (FY2007-FY2014). The highest bonus was $35,940 to John T. Burklow at Department of Health and Human Services in 2012.
  6. Since 2007, PR positions increased in the federal government by 15 percent - an addition of 402 positions - from 2,688 to 3,092. Total PR salary spending by year increased by 22.4 percent despite a long period of freeze and sequester in federal hiring.
  7. $2.02 billion spent by 139 federal agencies with 2,403 outside PR vendors on 16,249 individual transactions since 2007 - despite 3,092 federal PR employees.
  8. 47 percent increase in outside PR consulting expenditures under the Obama administration vs. the last two years under the Bush administration.
  9. Top PR firms in the world reaped millions of dollars: Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens, Inc. ($87.98M), Young & Rubicam Inc. ($57.5M), Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Inc. ($47.93M), Fleishman-Hillard, Inc ($42.4M), Gallup ($42.0M), and many more.
  10. $183,581 (per year) billing by Ketchum ($88/hour, $15,298/month) for 'Intern.' $1.192 million (per year) billing by Boos Allen Hamilton ($525.67/hour, $91,107/month) for 'Executive Manager' - examples of billing rates per their respective federal advertising contracts.

The full report can be viewed here.


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