White House Mum on PR Contracts


At press time, 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, ranking minority member of the education committee, the administration has not responded to the Jan. 28 letter, which asked for the information by March 1.

The request cited "secret publicity campaigns to promote administration priorities" including an investigation that "revealed that the Department of Education paid a conservative commentator [Armstrong Williams, though the letter did not name him] to support the No Child Left Behind Act in television and radio appearances," plus another contract with a commentator unearthed following the Williams revelation.

It also cited Government Accountability Office conclusions that some packaged video news releases issued by Health and Human Services and the Office of National Drug Control Policy violated anti-propaganda rules for failure to disclose, though the Justice Department has issued its own opinion concluding that the fact that the agency's participation in the packaged VNR's was not disclosed did not automatically make the VNRs illegal covert propaganda.

The letter-writers, which included House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the ranking minority members of a slew of committees from Appropriations and Commerce to Science and Transportation, want copies of all contracts, subcontracts and related documents. Good luck.

Miller spokesman Thomas Kiley described the Bush administration as "generally uncooperative" with various requests for information.

Miller last month asked the chairman of the education committee, Ohio Republican John Boehner, to hold a hearing on the Armstrong Williams contract, but he declined, said Kiley.

The FCC is currently investigating the Williams broadcasts for possible payola violations, and President George W. Bush has publicly stated that the play-for-pay practice must end.

The White House had not returned a call on whether it planned to respond to the letter from Miller et. al.).

In a separate letter sent last week, Miller and others have asked HHS for copies of its video news releases, contracts and the stations airing the VNRs following reports the department was still using them after the GAO advisory that they constituted "covert propaganda."

An HHS spokesman said HHS would get back to Congress "in due time," but the answer is likely to be that Justice, HHS' controlling legal authority, has concluded the packaged VNR's aren't covert propaganda.

An HHS source says that while the department has cautioned its various arms, Centers for Disease control, National Institutes of Health, etc., about VNRs, there has been no blanket prohibition.

The adminstration has already been hit with FOIA requests from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for similar information from all cabinet-level agencies.