A government watchdog found that over the last decade, annual government spending on public relations and advertising activities averages $1.5 billion.
The Government Accountability Office publicly released a report Wednesday examining how much the federal government spent on public relations and advertising contracts, as well as on salaries for federal public relations employees, from 2006 to 2015.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., asked the nonpartisan agency to determine how much the government spends on public relations activities.
“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,” Enzi said in a statement.
“It is important to understand the primary purposes and reported benefits from the investments of tax dollars paid by America’s hardworking families,” he continued.
Each year, the government spends $1 billion on public relations and advertising contracts, the GAO found. The agency also determined that nearly $500 million is spent on the salaries of federal public relations employees.
The median salary of those employees in fiscal year 2014 was $90,000, and the GAO said there were 5,086 public relations workers employed by the federal government that year.
Over the past decade, the Department of Veterans Affairs saw the biggest increase in its public relations staff, nearly doubling the number of employees from 2006 to 2014. In 2014, the agency employed 286 public relations workers.
Though the Department of Defense led government agencies in overall spending on public relations and advertising, it was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that spent the greatest percentage of its annual budgets on those contracts.
The CFPB opened its doors in 2011, and the agency spent nearly $4.3 million on advertising and public relations contracts over the course of its five-year lifespan—0.83 percent of its annual budget.
In 2015, the agency spent $8.1 million, 1.45 percent of its budget, on advertising.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported the CFPB’s accelerated spending on advertising.
Over the past decade, federal agencies have spent money that qualifies as public relations and advertising spending on things such as webcams at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo that allow visitors to its website to see specific animals, campaigns from the Department of Transportation against distracted driving, and publicized information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the Zika virus, the GAO found.
Though the federal government’s spending on public relations and advertising may appear to be significant, Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said it’s merely a “drop in the pool.”
Government spending topped $3.4 trillion, before interest payments, last year. Spending on advertising and public relations activities, Goldwein said, account for just 0.03 percent of total spending.
Still, Goldwein said “every dollar is important,” but stressed that it is important to understand how the money is being spent.
Raising awareness of a federal program, for example, can be a good thing.
“If these dollars are being wasted, it’s important to address that, even if it’s just a small drop in the pool,” he told The Daily Signal.