Jacksonville Journal-Courier: Public relations price tag doesn’t help those paying /cms/images/spacer.gif

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Editorial: Public relations price tag doesn’t help those paying


Crime doesn’t pay.

Government does.

Sometimes it seems like a fine line between the two.

Military and homeland security spending has been at the top of federal government discretionary spending for a long time. Last fiscal year, it accounted for 54 percent of that money, or about $599 billion. As a portion of all spending, including mandatory funding, it accounts for about 16 percent of the budget.

Compared to other nations, defense spending by the U.S. is more than the next seven countries combined.

That’s understandable. We live in troubled times, and a sense of safety is important. Protracted years of fighting, particularly against the threat of terrorism overseas, does not come cheaply.

It’s another category of federal spending that should be cause for concern — one in which the United States is also a world leader: public relations.

According to the non-partisan watchdog group Open the Books, the U.S. government has become the second-largest public relations firm in the world.

A report by the group showed spending on public relations activities by the feds hit more than $4.3 billion between 2007 and 2014. Last year, it was about $1.5 billion for PR and advertising activities. There were close to 2,000 federal public relations employees being paid more than $100,000 annually last year. There are now about 5,000 public relations officers on the federal payroll and last year about $1.2 million was spent on private public relations contractors making $525 an hour in some cases (according to Open the Books, some of these companies billed the government $88 an hour for work done by interns).

The largest growth in public relations was for the Environmental Protection Agency and Veterans Affairs.

There are certainly legitimate needs for communicating the inner-workings of government to the people.

Others are questionable.

Public relations spending is just a facet of an estimated $100 billion beast. Watchdog groups point to spending like:

• $630,000 by the State Department to get taxpayers to "like" its Facebook page;

• A $1.7 million Veterans Affairs contract with the Gallup Organization to engage employees and conduct surveys about levels of satisfaction;

• The creation of a cartoon character — the "Green Ninja" — that cost NASA $400,000 to teach children about global warming.

These are not the most extreme examples and are unfortunately not isolated cases. From a $3 million seminar on the legislative process to a $1.3 million grant for students to study how foam coozies can not only insulate cold drinks but also avoid condensation, there are hundreds more soaking up taxpayer dollars.

What makes the level of spending sinful is that it often comes at the expense of much more worthy programs and projects. The education system is foundering because of cuts. Veterans are being lost and forgotten by an overwhelmed and under-funded system. The elderly are unable to afford the basic necessities of life because of budget freezes.

Yet the Internal Revenue Service still manages to hire $70-an-hour telephone surveyors to gauge how people feel about its performance.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard and costly to convince Americans that the government is doing its best to be a good steward of taxpayer money if there weren’t so many examples to the contrary.


Original Article, Here.

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