The federal government spends $1.5 billion annually on public relations — $1 billion on PR and advertising contracts, and another $500 million on salaries for 5,000 federal PR employees, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report, requested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) found that advertising and PR contracts have ranged from $800 million to $1.3 billion annually over the past decade. As the report notes, the government spends taxpayer dollars on numerous advertising platforms:
“In addition to more traditional public relations media such as television and radio, agencies are expanding the use of various media technologies to facilitate communication with the public. These media technologies include e-mail, websites, blogs, text messaging, and social media such as Facebook.”
In addition, the federal government has close to 5,000 public relations employees with a combined salary of close to $500 million per year averaged over the past decade. These employees have a median salary of close to $90,000 in 2014. According to the Census Bureau, the average median household income in 2014 was $53,657.
As the report notes, it is difficult to definitively determine the full amount spent on advertising because government contracts may encompass multiple activities. Many contracts were not included in GAO’s scope that may or may not have involved PR and advertising. As the report notes:
“We found 55 contract actions with the term “public relations” and 161 contract actions with the term “advertising” that had not been coded under the codes we included in our scope.”