Let’s take Donald Trump at his word that he means to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C. One aspect of that swamp is the way federal agencies spend money on public relations and outright propaganda.
The erosion of budgetary constraints over time has led to a situation wherein federal agencies (many of which have scant constitutional authorization in the first place) get piles of money to spend as the officials choose. No one should be surprised to find that they like to hire public relations specialists or contract with outside firms for material that makes them look good and their agencies utterly essential to the public welfare.
Recently the Government Accountability Office (GAO) did a study of such spending at the request of Wyoming’s Senator Mike Enzi, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. The GAO’s report
on federal public relations spending shows that government agencies go through more than a billion dollars each year.
Senator Enzi’s statement
on the report highlights some of its findings:
Total Executive branch spending on public relations and advertising comes to about $1.5 billion. Agencies spending roughly $1 billion on contracts with PR firms and employ some 5,000 employees who are paid almost $500 more for PR work. Those people are paid quite well – the median salary is $90,000. The agency that spends the greatest percentage of its budget on flackery is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the agency with the highest percentage of PR personnel on staff was the Federal Elections Commission. The agency that has increased its spending on PR the most over the last decade is the one that arguably has the worst image – Veterans Affairs.
Remember that unctuous "Pajama Boy" ad
designed to dragoon as many Americans as possible into enrolling in Obamacare? The taxpayers footed the bill for that bit of propaganda on behalf of one of the most ill-conceived fiascos in our history.
The civil servants at NASA have gotten into the spirit with their "Green Ninja"
campaign that’s meant to get children to become environmentally conscious. Now retired Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn featured it in his 2013 "Wastebook,"
saying that it’s supposed to make school kids into climate warriors through classroom lessons and YouTube cartoons. Environmental scaremongering is no part of NASA’s mission, yet this cost us $390,000.
Arguably the most obnoxious of all these expenditures was one by the Department of Labor aimed at increasing public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage. It sent out a tweet
with a video where someone writes "Raise the Wage" in mustard on a hot dog. The message is that hot dog vendors only make $9 per hour and therefore the government should mandate that they be paid more. Advocacy groups have lots of donated money to spend on propounding the ridiculous idea that prosperity comes from federal decrees. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pitch in, but they do.
Writing last year on Forbes
about the distressing publicity waste in the federal government, Open the Books
founder Adam Andrzejewski said, "Spending $70 per hour for telemarketers, $88 per hour for interns, $275 per hour for graphic designers, and $525 per hour for ad executives has little to do with transparency and everything to do with self-promotion. It’s how an agency gets a bigger budget next year."