The last I looked, the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, was under the ultimate scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if it will be stricken down as unconstitutional or deemed legally sound. Evidence has been presented and a decision is expected in June. Concurrently, we have an uncontested financial crisis.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has just secured a new contract with leading PR firm Porter Novelli for a whopping $20 million to communicate the benefits of Obamacare. The goal of the new multimedia ad campaign is to educate people about staying healthy and preventing illnesses, according to The Hill. As of yet, there is no information about this contract on the HHS website. A self-professed Washington, D.C., insider and President Obama's former campaign on-air surrogate Kiki McClean is the managing director of Porter Novelli's Washington firm that won the contract in a reported competitive bidding process.
Now this communication campaign appears untimely at the very least and an expenditure that is clearly extravagant. This impending PR campaign is irresponsible when there is a Supreme Court decision expected in the not-too-distant future that may affect the very existence of the Affordable Health Care Act. This is a premature waste of taxpayer money. This is wrong on so many levels.
Surprisingly, the HHS employs a startling 83,745 employees, and is one of our largest government agencies. Granted, those 83,745 employees work in a diverse arm of the government handling the health issues of the American public including health and social science research, food and drug safety, disease prevention, child abuse, violence prevention. But in my experience, outside contractors should not be hired unless there is no one capable of providing this service and expertise on the payroll. This is even more critical in the public government sector.
The message is that there is no one in the staff of 83,745 employees who can tout, explain and communicate the benefits of Obamacare. This PR campaign was apparently budgeted and planned as part of the Affordable Care Act. But why are they doing this now? It has been more than two years since The Affordable Health Care Act was signed into law in March 2010. Why wouldn't the public affairs arm of the HHS handle communication concerning health recommendations? Is there no one capable there either? Is this not the very reason they exist?
When can we remember a publicly funded advertising campaign directly related to a Supreme Court case that is in the deliberation process? Should SCOTUS be sequestered to keep them out of the political eye of the government sponsored public relations campaign?
We may wonder about Congressional vetting of these types of expenditures. The bipartisan team of Senators Clair McCaskill (D) and Rob Portman (R) requested information about HHS contracts (which would include the impending PR contract), from HHA Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Feb. 28, 2012. They requested a response by May 16. After receiving no response, they collectively continue the request for information to enable them to do their due diligence.
Be still, my heart! This not only lacks smart business and political sense on so many levels of government, it puts into question the value, mission, and abilities of the HHS staff. This is an extreme example of untimely and unvetted spending when they should be looking for sound cost-cutting measures.