The federal government has dropped more than $4 billion on PR work since 2007, according to a report conducted by non-profit Open the Books, a nonpartisan watchdog dedicated to transparency in public spending.
Those findings were reported today by political site The Hill.
The Open the Books report, titled “The Department of Self-Promotion: How Federal Agency PR Spending Advances Their Interests Rather Than the Public Interest,” shows the federal government spent $4.35 billion in combined public affairs salaries, bonuses and outside PR contract work between 2007 and 2015.
These figures account for more than $2.3 billion in salaries, as well as “performance bonuses” totaling nearly $11 million given to federal public affairs officers in the last eight years. In 2014 alone, more than 3,000 federal public affairs officers were employed by more than 200 federal agencies, and more than half — 1,858 public affairs officers — took a base salary of at least $100,000. Given the number of public affairs officers on its payroll, the report claims the U.S. government is now the “second largest public relations firm in the world.”
Despite boasting such a massive in-house PR staff, however, about half the money the federal government spent on PR in the last eight years has gone to outside PR firms. More than $2 billion has been spent by 139 government agencies on contracts with outside PR firms since 2007, according to the report, accounting for 2,403 PR vendors and 16,249 transactions.
The biggest federal spenders on outside PR contracts include The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Army, the EPA, FEMA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Navy and the National Institutes of Health, among others. According to the report, the ten biggest federal agency spenders dropped more than $50 million in outside PR consulting in the last eight years, which represents almost 70 percent of all outside PR spends made during that period.
The most common services paid to outside PR consulting firms are “market research and public opinion” and “public relations services.”
United States Government Public Relations Contract Spending, 2007-2014.
The Open the Books report shows more than half of those private PR spends went to some of the country's largest PR agencies: Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens, Inc., $87.98M; Young & Rubicam Inc., $57.5M; Ogilvy PR Worldwide, $47.93M; Fleishman-Hillard, Inc., $42.4M; and Gallup $42.0M.
Reviewing U.S. General Services Administration labor supply contracts, the Open the Books report discovered in the fees several bloated employee salaries. Boos Allen Hamilton billed the government at a rate of $525.62 per hour for an “executive manager" (equal to weekly pay of $21,025, or an annual salary of $1,093,290). Ketchum billed up to $88.26 per hour (or a salary of $183,581 per year) for a position titled “intern.”
The report claims outside PR costs have skyrocketed under the Obama administration, revealing a 47 percent difference between the highest two years for PR costs during Obama's tenure, compared to spending during the last two years of the Bush administration. Government PR positions have grown 15 percent in the last seven years — or about more than 400 employees — from 2,688 to its current roster of 3,092 employees. PR salary spending has increased by more than 22 percent per year, according to the report.
In October, Republicans in the Senate Budget Committee launched a probe into the federal government's spending on outside PR work. The Senate Finance Committee has since requested that the Obama administration divulge information related to PR and ad spending related to the Affordable Care Act.
Open the Books claims its report is intended to examine "cases when federal agencies go beyond making information available and engage in self-promotion."
A PDF of the entire report can be found here.