Congress Investigates PR: Will It Like What It Sees?

As the public relations industry grows in size and stature, it is coming under increasing scrutiny by the public, media and government. But not all scrutiny is bad, especially if it helps broaden the understanding of a profession and advances its role and value.

Twice in the past year there have been investigations into public relations spending by the federal government. The most recent was launched in late February by Senator Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Senator Rob Portman (R–Ohio), who have triggered a wide-ranging investigation of the federal government’s use of public relations and advertising services. At the initial stages of this inquiry the Subcommittee is seeking data for the past five years pertaining to “contracts for the acquisition of public relations, publicity, advertising, communications, or similar services” at 11 separate Federal agencies.  We have our concerns, which we expressed directly with the Senators and through an op-ed published in RollCall.

It isn’t surprising that government spending on public relations is being scrutinized during times of economic austerity, when politicians of all stripes compete to be the most prudent with taxpayers’ funds. Such scrutiny — if conducted fairly and objectively — may prove valuable for public relations.

Read the entire article at PRSAY.

  • Danny Selnick

    Agreed — but Congress needs to fix the entire government procurement system to ensure full, fair and open competition — even when it comes to buying PR services. Government buys from companies either on the open market (sometimes with “reservations”) or via the GSA Schedule — which in theory, pre-qualifies vendors, that also supposedly offer “discounts” greater than those given to their best clients. A government agency can simply buy from that vendor with little or no competition. And here’s the kicker: GSA gets a “cut” of any government sale. Beyond questioning vendor oversight, an even greater problem is that this “closed system” is harmful to the free-market process. Congress should take a close look at the GSA Schedule system, shut it down, and require all government purchases be open market with one simple result — the best product or service at the lowest possible price. This is what taxpayers expect and demand at all times — not just in periods of austerity.

    Danny Selnick, VP Public Policy Services, Business Wire (comments are the opinion of Danny Selnick and not of the company)