PRSA to Senate: Don’t use the PR industry as a ‘punching bag’

An investigation into the Obama Administration’s PR and advertising spend draws a sharp response from the Public Relations Society of America.


Don’t shoot the messenger.

That’s the message from the Public Relations Society of America to a Senate subcommittee investigating the Obama administration’s PR and advertising spend.

In an Op-Ed in Thursday’s Roll Call, PRSA chair and CEO Gerard F. Corbett says the probe—by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.) and Rob Portman (R–Ohio)—is “detrimental to restoring the public’s trust in politicians.”

The Senators’ effort is a wide-ranging probe into all “contracts for the acquisition of public relations, publicity, advertising, communications, or similar services” of 11 government agencies dating back to Oct. 1, 2008, according to Roll Call.

Corbett says he shares the Senators’ concerns over how the government spends taxpayer dollars, but questions their seeming desire to use the PR industry as “punching bag for America’s dysfunctional political system.”

He continues:

“In an era of disastrously low trust in government and politicians, McCaskill and Portman’s investigation may be missing the proverbial boat. It disregards public relations’ central value to government: its ability to engender a more informed society through ethical, transparent and honest communications between the government and its citizens.

“Therefore, any investigation into the government’s use of PR firms should not be undertaken unilaterally. It must be met by an equally robust examination of how the government communicates with the public and how it can better use innovative PR firms and professionals to best reach and inform citizens.

“Killing the messenger won’t make the government’s public trust and transparency issues disappear.”

The agencies included in the probe are Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Justice, Health and Human Services, Defense, Labor, and Agriculture departments, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board. The heads of these agencies have until Mar. 16 to comply with the senator’s requests, Roll Call reported.

When the investigation was first announced on Feb. 29, Sen. McCaskill said in a statement to Hotsheet:

“Over the past three years, we have seen some reports of questionable uses of taxpayer dollars on public relations to promote the administration’s agenda. This subcommittee investigation will dig deeper and fulfill our responsibility to police waste and abuse in the federal government.”

Media reports noted that McCaskill, a Democrat, is locked in a re-election battle and has tried to distance herself from the president. Although a spokesperson for the Senator said the investigation is not about politics.

In an email to PR Daily, PRSA said the investigation “looks to be a broadening of the Senate’s subcommittee investigation last year into the GSA’s use of PR firms in the Kansas City, which PRSA lobbied against.

On Twitter, several PR professionals this morning thanked the PRSA for its efforts defending the industry.

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