Scandal management: Pentagon spends most of US gov’t PR budget
By far the greatest share of the US government’s public relations budget – more than all the other agencies combined – is spent by the military, an audit has revealed. While that has helped the Pentagon pitch fancy weapons, it hasn’t managed to make them work.
The Department of Defense employs 40 percent of the government’s public relations workforce and accounts for almost 63 percent of all public relations spending between 2006 and 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO report on government PR spending, released last week, showed a $1 billion annual outlay on various forms of public relations, with 5,000 government employees working in PR for a combined annual salary of $475 million in 2015. By comparison, the entire Department of Education has 4,500 employees.
Of those expenditures, the Pentagon spent more than $626 million on average each year, the report showed. Over the 10-year period surveyed, the Department of Defense spent more money on PR than all other departments combined.
Additionally, the Pentagon has been paying hundreds of millions to outside contractors – such as the UK-based firm Bell Pottinger, which received $540 million between 2007 and 2011, and another $120 million in 2006. Among the services provided by the agency was the making and dissemination of fake terrorist videos attributed to Al-Qaeda.
The PR spending far outweighs the Pentagon’s share of the government’s overall budget, which official estimates put at 16 percent. For the fiscal year 2017, the Department of Defense has requested a budget of $582.7 billion.
There is no telling where all that public relations funding ends up, either. The military has had to deal with a number of embarrassments lately, from frisky generals to expensive futuristic weaponry that just doesn’t seem to work.
Major General Ron Lewis, the former senior military assistant to Secretary Ash Carter, was sacked in 2015 for inappropriately spending government money to pay for strippers and alcohol, a Pentagon inquiry announced last week. Nor was he the only one: Department of Defense employees, both civilian and military, reportedly racked up 5,000 charges at casinos and strip clubs, totaling more than $1 million over the course of a year.
Though the military has been heavily promoting the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter as the future of combat aviation, the Lockheed Martin jet not only costs a fortune but keeps suffering troublesome setbacks. No sooner did the US Air Force declare its version of the F-35 operational, it had to ground all the planes over concerns that poor insulation inside the fuel tanks was causing the jets to catch fire.
The US Navy’s futuristic designs for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the guided missile destroyer (DDG) have also foundered recently. In August, commander of the Naval Surface Forces, Vice-Admiral Tom Rowden, had to order all LCS to “stand down” for engineering re-training, after a half-dozen ships broke down due to “seawater leaks” in their propulsion systems.
A similar problem was reported aboard the missile destroyer Zumwalt, as it prepared to conduct sea trials at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on September 19.
Earlier this year, an Army PR stunt backfired when US tankers failed to place in the top three in the “Strong Europe Tank Challenge.” The first NATO competition of the kind since the Cold War took place at the Grafenwoehr training grounds in Germany this May, with two American tank platoons taking part alongside the crews from Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia.
German tankers took the top honors, with the Danes coming in second and the Poles bringing up the third place.