- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Leaders of a House panel want a Tennessee public relations firm to turn over records on roughly $2 million in federal stimulus program contracts it won from the Department of Labor, including details of the work it did on a nearly half-million-dollar ad campaign on MSNBC that reported creating no jobs.

Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce also called on the company, McNeely, Pigott & Fox LLC, to turn over information about a $1.5 million stimulus contract awarded to the firm in 2009 for work under the federal Job Corps program, according to a recent letter lawmakers sent to Mike Pigott, a founding partner at the firm.

The committee’s letter cited a report last month by The Washington Times on the Labor Department’s use of nearly $500,000 in federal stimulus funds to hire the public relations firm. The firm ran more than 100 ads touting Job Corps training in environmentally friendly career areas, which aired on MSNBC programs hosted by Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann in 2009.

In their letter to Mr. Pigott, the lawmakers sought, among other things, information about the public relations strategy for the Labor Department’s Job Corps program and any documents or communications relating to the decision to make media purchases on MSNBC.

The letter was signed by four committee members, including the chairman, Rep. John Kline of Minnesota. The public relations firm declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Times and referred all questions to the Department of Labor.

A Labor spokesman said the department is aware of the letter and will respond. Republican committee leaders separately have called on Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis to turn over government records on the decision to spend nearly a half-million dollars in stimulus funds for cable television commercials.

But according to their letter, committee members also are seeking details on a second Labor Department contract for $1.5 million awarded to the public relations firm funded through the stimulus program.

The work on that $1.5 million contract included updating a photo and video database of Recovery Act projects, research on various stimulus projects and reaching out to Job Corps centers for information on graduates “who are currently employed by energy-efficient employers and are using their green training skills in their positions,” according to government records.

“Upon further review of records, we have found that DOL, since 2009, spent almost $2 million on public relations services from MP&F, resulting in the creation of one job in the last reported quarter,” committee leaders wrote in their letter to Ms. Solis.

While the last quarterly report on the $1.5 million contract from Jan. 1 to March 31 this year stated that one job had been saved, earlier quarterly reports contained figures with up to eight jobs created or saved.

Still, it’s the smaller contract that paid for MSNBC ads that has lawmakers raising the sharpest questions.

“We understand this contract used taxpayer dollars to purchase advertisements on MSNBC during ‘Countdown With Keith Olbermann’ and ‘The Rachel Maddow Show,’” the lawmakers wrote to Ms. Solis.

“Despite the fact that these funds were made available as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — legislation President Obama said was critical for immediate job creation — an examination of public records shows that the contract that resulted in the advertisements on MSNBC created no jobs.

In an earlier statement to The Times, Labor Department officials said there was nothing political about the placement of the ads. They said research showed that the advertisements would reach the target demographic of business owners and managers interested in hiring “green-trained” employees through a programming list that initially also included shows hosted by CNN’s Larry King and public television’s Jim Lehrer.

The ad campaign also aimed to raise awareness among potential employers about the Job Corps’ green training in career areas, including automotive, advanced manufacturing and solar-panel installation, officials said.

But public television was eliminated because rates were too high, officials said, and Mr. King’s show was dropped because MSNBC held the potential to reach more viewers.

Still, when The Times first reported on the contract last month, one taxpayer watchdog group expressed concern both about the lack of jobs and the placement of ads on shows viewed as friendly to the administration’s policies.

“Taxpayers would be a lot happier at the end of the day to see a completed road rather than a bunch of ads on cable television,” said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Still, the use of tax dollars on media and advertising services has surfaced as a point of contention in Congress before, coming under sharp scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers during the George W. Bush administration.

In 2006, a Government Accountability Office study requested by Democrats found more than $1.6 billion in public relations and media spending by the Bush administration during a roughly two-year span.

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