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Congress Told To Cut Anti-Drug PSA Bucks

Congress could "just say no" to some of the money that has flowed to TV via anti-drug PSA campaigns.

The Government Accountability Office, the congressional research service, has recommended that Congress cut back funding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign--it has already pumped  over $1.4 billion into it since 1998--until it can provide evidence the campaign actually works.

The 2007 federal budget sets aside an additional $120 million for the campaign, up from 2006, to buy more ad time and space and increase the reach and frequency.

Congress asked for the GAO to after an outside study of six year's worth of the campaign (1998-2004), conducted by the Annenberg School of Communication and Westat, concluded it had not been effective in reducing youth drug use. The GAO report examined that study and concluded it was on target.

ONDCP challenged the conclusion, saying it does not reflect the campaign's effectiveness.

ONDCP was directed by Congress in 1998 to conduct the anti-drug campaign. Media accepting the public service announcements had to match the dollars spent by the government on ad time with an equivalent value in public-service announcements, programming--anti-drug plot lines in programming--or other activities.

In 2003, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked GAO to study how the money was being spent, concerned that too much was going to "consulting" and not enough to the actual purchase of the media time.

That followed ad agency Ogilvy & Mather's out-of-court settlement of a suit charging accounting irregularities and overcharges associated with the ONDCP contract, of which it had the lion's share. O&M retained the contract anyway.

The GAO report on the spending break-down said that for 2002-2004, $520 million was spent, with 72% ($373 million) going for ad time and 28% ($147 million) going to services, which included campaign creative and outreach.

Separately, ONDCP was asked to produce its own study--at a cost of $18 million, said a GAO source at the time--to determine how effective all those dollars had been in dissuading young people from abusing drugs.