“[U]nnecessary media relations spending is a cost that the nation simply cannot afford,” Mike Enzi wrote. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is demanding who know how much money the Obama administration spent in fiscal year 2015 on publicity, media relations and attempts to improve their “messaging” to the press.
Enzi wrote a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan just days after the Washington Post reported that an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services spent taxpayer money on a contract with public relations firm Edelman. The company was hired to study how the agency might better influence reporters.
The Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, was trying to “refine their agency messaging,” according to a Washington Post story. But Enzi said he’s worried about how much money is being spent on these activities across the government given the $18 trillion national debt.
“[U]nnecessary media relations spending is a cost that the nation simply cannot afford,” he wrote. “With the administration again asking Congress to raise the federal debt limit, it is essential that the Executive Branch avoid spending on unessential and inappropriate activities, and that Congress be made aware to the extent that such spending continues to occur.”
Enzi said agency spending on PR is “largely a black box,” and said the Congressional Research Service has trouble pinpointing exactly how much is being spent. He also noted that this spending continues despite several laws that prevent the government from spending money on “publicity or propaganda purposes,” or to influence legislative outcomes.
Enzi asked OMB to explain exactly how much SAMHSA has spent on its PR contact with Edelman, and how much more it plans on spending.
But he also asked for a government-wide estimate of all spending on advertising, PR and media relations efforts in fiscal year 2015, which just ended.
“Describe the manner in which the administration categorizes such spending, and a breakdown of how much was spent within each category,” he wrote. “Describe how ‘messaging’ activities such as that described by the Post are categorized, and provide government-wide and agency by agency totals for spending on messaging activities.”
He also asked for a summary of all current laws aimed at preventing the government from spending on propaganda and publicity efforts.