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The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the non-partisan government watchdog agency, today released a report, requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), showing that the federal government spends $1.5 billion annually on public relations activities.

The report details how federal agencies spend about $1 billion annually on public relations/advertising contracts and the approximately 5,000 federal public relations employees collectively receive nearly $500 million in salary annually.

“With increasing pressures on limited federal resources, it is crucial to know how much is spent across the federal government on public relations activities and which federal agencies are spending the most,” said Chairman Enzi. “It is important to understand the primary purposes and reported benefits from the investments of tax dollars paid by America’s hardworking families. I look forward to GAO continuing its efforts to shine more light on these activities.”

The full GAO Report on Public Relations Spending by the Federal Government can be viewed here.

The report found:

  • The Executive Branch spends about $1.5 billion in total annually on public relations/advertising.  Federal agencies spend about $1 billion annually on public relations/advertising contracts and the approximately 5,000 federal public relations employees collectively receive nearly half a billion in salary annually. (For context, the entire Department of Education had 4,081 employees in FY 2015, according to the President’s FY 2017 budget submission.) 
  • The median public affairs officer’s salary at agencies across the Government is about $90,000 according to GAO. 
  • The agency that spent the greatest percentage of its annual budgets on public relations/advertising contracts over the past decade was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which began operation in FY 2011).
  • The agencies that had the highest percentage of public relations personnel on staff (in FY 2014) as a percentage of their total employees were, in order, the Federal Election Commission, the Small Business Administration, the State Department, the EPA and the National Science Foundation.
  • The agencies that increased their public relations staff by the largest percentage during the past decade were Veterans Affairs (9.1%), Small Business Administration (7.2%) and Homeland Security (6.5%).  VA public relations staff nearly doubled during the decade, from 144 to 286 employees.