PR-Probing Activists Sue USDA


Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is suing the Department of Agriculture for not turning over public-relations documents.

CREW filed the Freedom of Information Act request Jan. 11, one of a couple dozen the group filed against cabinet-level agencies following the discovery that Armstrong Williams was flacking for No Child Left Behind as part of a contract with the Department of Education (Williams says he supported the program anyway).

FOIA requires that agencies at least acknowledge the request within 30 days. USDA didn't, said CREW.

Meanwhile, the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the White House had not responded to the request by a couple of dozen high-profile House Democrats for information on all public-relations and advertising contracts with government agencies.

According to the office of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) ranking minority member of the education committee, the administration the letter was sent Jan. 28 letter, and asked for the information by March 1.

Miller and others have also asked the Department of Health and Human Services for documents on their packaged video news releases (VNRs), which have also come under fire from critics charging they promote administration policies in the guise of news.

HHS' answer may have been provided by President George W. Bush himself Wednesday.  In a news conference, he said that the VNRs were not covert propaganda so long as they dealt in facts, not advocacy, pointing to a Justice Department opinion that  supported that position, though it contradicted one by the GAO that said HHS VNRs were propaganda.

A USDA FOIA executive was checking on the status of the request at press time.