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Government paid $1.62B for media, GAO says

Published February 14, 2006

WASHINGTON - The federal government spent $1.62-billion on media contracts during a recent 30-month period, a nonpartisan congressional agency reported Monday.

The money went for multimedia initiatives ranging from warning against non-U.S. prescription drugs to promoting the 50 States Quarter Program to producing 14 video news releases.

While the bulk of the money went to advertising agencies and public relations firms, beneficiaries included 131 media organizations and eight individual members of the media.

The report, released by the Governmental Accountability Office, covered spending for seven Cabinet departments, from 2003 through the first six months of 2005.

The Department of Defense contracts alone totaled more than $1.1-billion. Among the projects were $4,000 to buy embroidered towels that promoted an Air Force amateur golf program, and more than $10,000 spent for decks of playing cards, portable radios, hats and T-shirts touting an Air Force bowling program.

Other projects included campaigns promoting folic acid, "marriage-related research initiatives" and the "Global War on Terror."

Congressional Democrats, who requested the study last year, condemned what they called "the president's propaganda machine."

"No amount of money will successfully sell the Bush administration's failed policies, from the war in Iraq to its disastrous energy policy to its confusing Medicare prescription drug benefits," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, leader of the House Democrats.

Especially aggravating to administration critics was $50-million spent on 76 no-bid contracts and $1.2-million used on contracts to create 14 video news releases.

The White House did not return calls for comment Monday, but the Education Department in the past has defended its public relations spending as a "legitimate" way to disseminate information to the public.

Controversy surrounding media spending emerged last year amid reports about government-produced prepackaged television news segments and contracts with proadministration commentators.

In previous reports, the GAO found that the production of prepackaged video news releases violates a federal ban on covert propaganda.

--Information from Hearst Newspapers was used in this report.

[Last modified February 14, 2006, 02:45:31]

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