Handful of agencies account for $1.5 billion in PR spending governmentwide

When it comes to getting a message out to the public, federal agencies have more ground to cover than ever, thanks to social media. But how does the government’s online presence translate into spending?

The Government Accountability Office found that federal agencies spend nearly $1.5 billion annually on advertising and public relations.

“With the increased popularity and accessibility of expanded media platforms, the federal government’s ability to publicize information has changed rapidly,” GAO wrote in its report. “In addition to more traditional public relations media such as television and radio, agencies are expanding the use of various media technologies to facilitate communication with the public. These media technologies include e-mail, websites, blogs, text messaging, and social media such as Facebook. The President and OMB have encouraged this use.”

GAO found that the government spends an average of $1 billion annually on advertising and PR contracts, and pays 5,000 federal employees nearly $500 million annually to carry out PR and communications agencies.

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The report found that only 10 agencies make up almost all agency spending on advertising. The Defense Department alone accounted for more than 60 percent of contract spending on PR, and has served as a bellwether for overall government spending in communications.

Increased spending by DoD and the Commerce Department accounted for fiscal 2009 being the year with the highest PR contract spending at $1.3 billion. Governmentwide PR contract spending fell to its lowest point in fiscal 2012, at $800 million.

pr spending chart 2

Last year, DoD spent more than $590 million on PR contract spending. The next highest spender was Health and Human Services, at $114 million. The Office of Personnel management spent nearly $4 million on PR last year, four times its average.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, requested the GAO report.

“With increasing pressures on limited federal resources, it is crucial to know how much is spent across the federal government on public relations activities and which federal agencies are spending the most,” Enzi said in a statement.

A Senate Budget Committee official told Federal News Radio that Enzi has looked into the possibility of holding a hearing on agency PR spending.

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