House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and others requested the report a year ago after disclosures that the administration had paid PR firms to produce "covert propaganda" to advance several of its initiatives. Among the notable revelations was one in January 2005 that the Department of Education had paid conservative columnist Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.
In its survey, the GAO requested information from federal departments about their contracts with PR firms, ad agencies, media organizations and individuals from fiscal year 2003 through the first half of fiscal year 2005. A total of 343 contracts were reported. The findings include that:
This report comes barely a month after a similar one was released about departments' spending on public service announcement campaigns (PSAs). That study showed that, within the same 2½ years as the Media Contracts study, nearly $152 million was spent on PSAs advocating issues ranging from military recruitment to outdoor recreational safety. Also, a previous study by a staff of the Government Relations Committee found that spending on contracts with PR firms has increased significantly during the Bush administration. In fact, the report indicated such spending rose 128 percent between 2000 and 2004.
As no GAO report of this nature has been done in the past, it is impossible to compare and contrast the Bush administration's media contract spending with that of other administrations. Yet one of the Democrats who called for the report, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said that "the extent of the Bush administration's propaganda effort" was "unprecedented." Meanwhile, Waxman urged "careful oversight of this spending," noting that it is taxpayer money being used to finance such "covert propaganda" programs.