In 2006, a bill was passed regarding transparency in government. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) & Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), called the “Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.” Using that availability, an organization called “Open the Books” has looked at PR spending by the government for fiscal years 2007-2014. You can find it at OpenTheBooksReport.
The report calls into question the amount spent on public relations efforts from the various federal, state, and local government agencies. Claiming sometimes government is using public relations more to make themselves look good and garner further funding than to simply keep the public informed.
The government already is the 2nd largest PR employer in the world, with more than 3,000 employed in jobs usually with the title of public affairs specialist, information officers, and press officers. Internally they spend on salaries, bonuses, and benefits over $2 billion annually. With an average annual salary of $100,000. Externally, employing outside PR firms, the government spends nearly $2.5 billion annually.
According to the report “In 2013, then-U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, our Honorary Chairman, criticized the U.S. State Department under the leadership of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for spending $630,000 to convince taxpayers to “like” the State Department on Facebook.
The agency argued the Facebook campaign fit within its broad mission to inform the world of its activities. But should U.S. taxpayers and citizens of the world be encouraged to “like” the State Department with taxpayer-funded PR campaigns or should those individuals decide to like the State Department based on the State Department’s performance on the global stage? Was the campaign designed to advance the national security interests of the United States and displaced persons in places like Syria, or was the campaign an orgy of self-congratulations?”
Another interesting tidbit in the report claims, “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.”
Private firms bid for government contracts only after the contracts are offered, so when PR firms offer their services, they do so because they are doing business as usual. The question raised is that the government has so many in-house specialists making very good salaries compared to many on the government payroll, spending a collective $4.5 billion on PR seems excessive, even for the U.S. government.
We are reviewing this extensive study further, and will have more stories today and the rest of this week on this.