- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs effort to make a splash with veterans by advertising in high-profile venues like the Super Bowl was a superflop that set back taxpayers by millions, according to the latest internal investigation exposing the agency’s flaws.

The VA inspector general says the $5.2 million that the department paid a Vienna, Virginia-based advertising firm called Woodpile Studios for TV ads that aired during the Super Bowl and the Country Music Association awards a few years ago did little to increase awareness about the government’s services for veterans.

The agency “could not demonstrate that Woodpile’s services resulted in significant improvements in awareness and access to VA healthcare, benefits and services,” investigators reported.

Despite the low return on investment, the VA gave the ad firm another $5 million, which also apparently provided little value for taxpayers, the investigative report concluded.

Joshua Taylor, the assistant secretary of the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, told the IG that the investigative findings were accurate and the criticisms were fair. He promised that the VA was now committed “to a more rigorous and effective contract management and oversight process.”

For throwing away as much as $10 million on a TV ad campaign that brought little benefit while thousands of veterans struggled to get timely services and benefits, the VA earns this week’s Golden Hammer, presented by The Washington Times to highlight examples of misspending and government.

In the end, this episode is a tale of an agency creating a new problem while trying to solve another issue.

In 2010 the Government Accountability Office determined that the VA was not doing enough to reach out to veterans and make them aware of the services and benefits available to them.

The agency responded by launching a $30 million national outreach campaign to increase its profile.

The VA’s marketing arm, the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, “began a multi-phased plan to develop an integrated rebranding and communications campaign that included paid media, outreach events, media relations and digital strategies,” according to the IG.

As part of that effort, the VA awarded graphic design and advertising firm Woodpile a $5.2 million contract. Under the agreement, Woodpile oversaw a “significant media ad campaign” consisting of “two television spots aired between October 2010 and January 2011.”

One of the TV commercials aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. Woodpile-produced VA ads were also featured during the Country Music Association Awards.

The VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs was unable to provide any “performance assessments or other documented analysis to show the impact of [Woodpile’s] outreach activities,” the investigative report concluded.

Investigators determined that the VA’s contract with Woodpile “lacked specific deliverables” and that Woodpile was to perform “broad activities such as copyrighting, graphics support, and strategic consultation with no required outputs.” As a result, the VA had no proof that the $5.2 million it gave to Woodpile did anything to increase veterans’ awareness of VA benefits.

• Drew Johnson can be reached at djohnson@washingtontimes.com.

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