'Flack' Isn’t Just a Kind of Jacket at the Pentagon These Days

“Getting the message out” ain’t cheap. And when you’re the federal government, there’s apparently a lot of messages that need to be gotten out, to the tune of almost $1 billion annually over the last 10 years.

That’s the conclusion of a new Government Accountability Office report released Oct. 5 that looked at expenditures by the government on public relations and advertising. The report was written at the request of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

Sen. Mike Enzi

In the report, the GAO toted up obligations—when an agency commits to spend money, even though it may not have pushed it all out the door—for federal advertising and public relations contracts between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2015.

The total: $995.8 billion a year, on average.

In addition to the contracts, the government also paid an average of about $430 million annually between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2014 to its own employees engaged in public relations work, the GAO said.

The Defense Department was a primary source of contracts and home to many of the PR workers.

“Obligations for these contracts are concentrated among a few agencies, with 10 agencies responsible for 95 percent of these obligations over the past ten years. The Department of Defense (DOD), which is responsible for over 60 percent of total obligations for these contracts, has driven changes in overall spending,” the GAO said.

The Pentagon | Photo courtesy of David B. Gleason under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license (2008)

“As with contracting for advertising and public relations services, employment of public relations staff is concentrated among a few agencies and changes at these agencies can drive overall public relations employment levels. DOD is the largest employer of these staff, with on average just over 40 percent of all federal public relations employees between fiscal years 2006 and 2014,” according to the report.

The number of public relations at the Defense Department fluctuated between 1,825 and 2,260 in the period the GAO studied.

While the DoD’s average of $626 million a year on PR and ad contracts was by far the largest of any single agency, it was not among the top three agencies when measured as an average percentage of total agency obligations. That distinction went to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at 0.83 percent, followed by the Peace Corps at 0.31 percent and the Commerce Department at 0.22 percent.

For the CFPB, which only began obligating money in fiscal 2012, the average was calculated over a smaller number of years than other agencies.