The federal government has spent a whopping $4 billion on public relations efforts since 2007, according to a new report by Open the Books, a project of American Transparency, a non-partisan, non-profit organization.
The watchdog group found that more than half of the funds have gone to the nation's largest PR firms, including Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Inc. and Ketchum Inc. Additionally, the federal government is now employing more than 3,000 public relations professionals, which is a 15 percent increase from seven years ago. The report's authors argue that the exorbitant amount of money being spent on information campaigns are about more than transparency.
"Our motivation is clear, simple and straightforward. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. Federal agencies, however, not only resist transparency but often pretend to be transparent when, in reality, they are engaged in self-promotion," the report, called The Department of Self-Promotion, reads. "Too often, they use their charge to disclose information as a cover for public relations campaigns that are designed to advance their interests (i.e. their desire for more funding and higher salaries) rather than the public interest."
The report, according to its authors," examines cases when federal agencies go beyond making information available and engage in self promotion. To be clear, we always applaud agencies who make information available. That is our core mission. But, again, agencies are not charged with making that information interesting or newsworthy. Agencies certainly aren't charged with using taxpayer funds to engage in thinly-veiled propaganda campaigns that are primarily designed to protect their budgets and hype outcomes."
Of the more than $4 billion spent on public affairs efforts since 2007, some $36.5 million was spent on polling residents of foreign countries for their opinions on numerous issues; about $17.5 million went towards IRS customer satisfaction polls; and almost $11 million was paid out as performance bonuses for PR employees at federal agencies, with one employee of the Department of Health and Human Services receiving close to $36,000 in FY 2012.
Here are some other key points from the report, according to Open the Books:
The full report can be viewed here.