The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is taking heat from right-wing critics of the Obama administration for handing Porter Novelli a $20M job to educate Americans about the healthcare law.

It didn’t have to be.

The Heritage Foundation ripped the contract as “part of a sustained effort to try to sell the unpopular Obamacare law to the American people.”

Sarah Palin lashed the PR pact as a “propaganda piece” and an example of “crony capitalism on steroids.” The half-term Alaska Governor sees payback time, saying: “The $20 million is going to a firm that employs and has as head honchos Obama surrogates! It's payback for their support of Obama.”

Fox host Greta Van Susteren didn’t ask Palin to back up that unsubstantiated charge. [PN CEO Gary Stockman didn’t return my request for comment on Palin’s wild accusation.]

Ohio Senator Rob Portman fired off a letter yesterday to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who stiffed his February request for info on PR contacts, to ask for information about the plan to “launch a nationwide multimedia campaign to advertise the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

He wants the “request for proposal, a detailed statement of the expected word product, planned content of taxpayer-funded advertisements, target audiences and the timetable for advertisements this year.”

The Republican is looking for “HHS’s legal opinion concerning whether this PR contract complies with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which bars certain PR spending.”

PN’s contract is not about selling ObamaCare to the American people. The only people needed to be sold on the plan at this time are the nine members of the Supreme Court. The current furor over the $20M spending and wrongheaded cries of propaganda could tip the vote against the healthcare law.

The Supreme Court will make its decision in late June. HHS should have held off on the PR contract until that that decision is made. What’s the rush? If the court junks the law, there won’t be any need for a PR campaign to educate the American public about their new healthcare offerings.

The Court could also dump parts of the law. HHS should have waited for the legal dust to clear.

Sebelius, for her part, should respond to Portman’s request ASAP. There’s a need to be as open and possible about what is planned on the PR front. Her reluctance to supply info to Portman is beginning to look like she has something to hide.

She’s giving PR a bad name.