Yes, it’s true. In a period of American history where we are running deficits in the tens of trillions of dollars, the Obama Administration is spending money on the equivalent of hot air. $1.5 BILLION of your tax dollars on public relations and other propaganda. According to the office of the Government Accountability Office via the Cato Institute and The Washington Times, the breakdown goes something like this:
- $100 million from private sector
- $800 million contracted to private sector public relations in 2015
- $500 million (over) in federal staff members who perform public relations functions.
That’s 667 additional staff members added to the 5,238 already working for the fed as of 2008. (The number is under 5,100 at this point, but five thousand PR flacks? Were they expecting an invasion of bad news?)
“Spending $1.5 billion on government PR activities is a huge waste of money. That sort of spending should be drastically scaled back,” said Chris Edwards, a federal budget scholar at the Cato Institute.
What costs so much is the median salary of $90,000. Washington is an expensive city in which to live and work, and that amount will not go far, but really, FIVE THOUSAND of these people? It seems that the Pentagon has the most with about 2,100. Veterans Affairs – a cabinet department that really does need the PR help – had about 286 propaganda professionals as of 2014. That number grew from 144 not quite eight years earlier. Other departments seeing their PR staffs grow included Homeland Security, Interior and Health and Human Services. What function these people serve, exactly, is not made clear.
GAO investigators said in their report that agencies “may have legitimate interests in communicating with the public regarding their functions, policies and activities.” The report said the National Zoo’s webcams, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warnings about the Zika virus and the IRS’ advertising of tax credits available to taxpayers are all examples of PR activities.
But Mr. Edwards, the Cato budget scholar, said the government is also paying for “one-sided propaganda,” including touting of federal programs that are failing.
“What’s needed from the federal government is not one-sided propaganda, but a more honest assessment of the costs and benefits of each program,” he said. “Look on the website of nearly any federal agency, and you will find glowing discussions about how programs are helping people and doing wonderful things. But there is rarely any mention of the taxpayer costs and economic damage done by these programs.”
What is also needed is a place for budget hawks to look for redundant and replicative services that can be consolidated or eliminated. Public relations and propaganda flacks may be a good place to look.
Writer’s note: back in the day, the original PR people were said to need a flack jacket since they were paid to absorb bad press. Hence the name PR Flack.