Public Relations Spending:
Reported Data on Related Federal Activities
GAO-16-877R: Published: Sep 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 2016.
How much does the federal government spend on PR?
The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and other new platforms has changed the ways in which the federal government communicates with the public. But what is the total scope of federal public relations activities?
We found that the federal government spent about $1 billion a year during fiscal years 2006-2015 on advertising and PR contracts, with 10 agencies responsible for 95% of this spending. Total salaries for federal PR employees averaged about $430 million per year during fiscal years 2006-2014.
Federal Obligations on Contracts for Advertising and Public Relations
Bar chart showing totals of around $1 billion/year, with most spent on advertising.
What GAO Found
Federal obligations for advertising and public relations contracts have on average been close to $1 billion annually over the past decade, ranging from a low of about $800 million in fiscal year 2012 to a high of about $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2009, according to data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation (FPDS-NG). 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. Although advertising and public relations contracts data provide an indication of the magnitude of federal spending on public relations activities, they do not capture the full scope of these activities. This is due to several factors. For example, the data GAO presents is based on contracts coded under categories that closely align to public relations. There are other categories that could encompass public relations activities, but GAO did not use them because public relations activities could not be disaggregated from other activities.
The combined salary amounts for federal public relations employees averaged approximately $430 million from fiscal year 2006 through 2014, reaching nearly $500 million in fiscal year 2014, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) database. Over this time period the number of federal public relations employees ranged from a low of 4,422 in fiscal year 2006 to a high of 5,238 in fiscal year 2011. These employees were concentrated among a relatively small number of agencies, but to a lesser extent than contract obligations for advertising and public relations. DOD is the largest employer of public relations staff; accordingly, DOD public relations employees have the highest combined salaries.Although federal employment data provide an indication of federal employee resources devoted to public relations, they do not reflect the full scope of these resource. Reasons for this include the likelihood that employees beyond just those classified under the Public Affairs occupational series, which GAO used in the analysis, are involved in public relations activities.
Why GAO Did This Study
With the increased popularity and accessibility of expanded media platforms, the federal government’s ability to publicize information has changed rapidly, but the total scope of federal public relations activities is largely unknown. GAO was asked to determine how much the federal government spends on public relations activities. Based on information contained in federal databases, this report examines (1) the reported federal spending on contracts for advertising and public relations activities from fiscal year 2006 through 2015, including the agencies that have spent the most; and (2) the reported number of federal public relations employees and their combined annual salaries from fiscal years 2006 through 2014, and the agencies reported to have the highest total salaries for public relations employees.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is not making any recommendations.
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