GAO announces investigation into agency PR spending

The Government Accountability Office will investigate federal agency spending on public relations, following a call-to-action from the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Citing a letter from Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in October 2015, GAO will initiate a study to “identify and quantify”the total amount of spending dedicated to agency PR spending.

Enzi also asked Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan for a breakdown of agencywide spending on advertising and publicity for fiscal 2015, but officials with the Senate Budget Committee said on Wednesday that the request for information from OMB remains unfulfilled.

“The total amount of federal resources dedicated to public relations activities is largely unknown,” Enzi wrote in his letter to GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro. “Since OMB is unable to process this request, I am turning to GAO for assistance.”

Charles Young, managing director of public affairs at GAO, confirmed to Federal News Radio that the agency will investigate agency PR spending.

report by the Congressional Research Service found that federal agencies between fiscal 2009 and 2013 spent nearly $4.4 billion on contracts for “advertising services.”

pr spending graph

“It is unclear how vigorously the limits on government advertising are being enforced,” the report said. “It does not appear that the Department of Justice has indicted anyone for lobbying with appropriated funds.”

Enzi’s investigation comes after reports that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in September hired the public relations firm Edelman to solicit reporters on how it could “refine their agency messaging.” SAMHSA operates within the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Generally speaking, there are few government-wide restrictions on government advertising,” the CRS report notes. “Furthermore, no single agency is charged with tracking and overseeing the advertising expenditures of federal agencies.”

GAO reviews agency advertising only at Congress’ request, and can only issue non-binding recommendations.

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