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DOD's Big Flack Attack

The Defense Department has almost 3,000 public-relations contracts, according to its response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

But if CREW wants to find out exactly what those are and, for instance, determine exactly what policies the Army has been promoting and how, it will have to do some more digging.

PR contracts with other agencies have included VNR's (various) and paid punditry (Department of Education).

Defense is one of the three (out of 22) government agencies--Interior and Education are the other two--that have provided CREW with information on their PR contracts, though Defense's information has been "incredibly limited," says Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

CREW now knows that the Defense Department has 2,953 "line items" that relate to the FOIA PR contracts request, but CREW must go to each individual service if it wants to find out just what those are. It does want to know, though the task is daunting.

Fourteen other agencies have responded to the FOIA requests, says CREW, though they have yet to supply any information.

But the group says it has not heard a peep from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health & Human Services, the Social Security Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

That would make them all in violation of Freedom of Information Act requrements that agencies at least acknowledge receipt within 20 days, according to CREW.

A spokeswoman for USDA told B&C that the department had no record of having received the request, but CREW said it had confirmation of receipt.

The group has already sued SSA and the Agriculture Department over their tardiness, and will probably file suit against others, said Sloan.

The FOIA requests were prompted by the revelation that conservative columnist Armstrong Williams had a $240,000 contract with the Department of Education to promote its No Child Left Behind policy. Williams has said he supported the program anyway.

A group of high-profile Democratic legislators sent a letter Jan. 28 asking the administration to hand over all its government contracts to them.

The letter-writers, which included House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and the ranking minority members of a slew of committees from Appropriations and Commerce to Science and Transportation, want copies of all contracts, subcontracts and related documents.

A spokeswoman for Pelosi's office said they had not heard back from the White House.