PRESS RELEASE

FOREST SERVICE TO HIRE “PR” FIRMS TO REPLACE SPOKESPEOPLE

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Washington, DC — The U.S. Forest Service announced that it is weighing
replacement of 100 of its public information staff with private public relations
firms, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The move is motivated by pressure from
the Bush White House to put more federal jobs out to bid by private contractors
in order to “increase the cost-effectiveness of Forest Service work.”

According to agency memos, 100 of the agency’s 700 public affairs officers,
public affairs specialists, writers, editors, graphic artists, illustrators
and audio visual specialists will be reviewed by June 30 to determine whether
the positions would be subject to bid by private firms. The agency plans to
make decisions this fall and contractors could be in place by January.

Hundreds of other positions throughout the agency may be subject to similar
bidding in 2006. In 2004, citing cost overruns and potential side effects, Congress
severely restricted the Bush Administration efforts to outsource Forest Service
and National Park Service jobs. Those restrictions, however, lapsed this past
October and now the Bush Administration is again pushing its “Competitive
Sourcing” initiative.

“Wag the Dog is coming to a national forest near you,” stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referring to the movie about government use of
PR firms to manipulate public perception of events.
“Civil servants are under a legal obligation to tell the public the truth
while PR firms specialize in shading it. Outsourcing the public information
function risks putting a premium on spin at the expense of candor.”

President Bush promised to limit reliance on PR firms after recent controversy
over federal agency payments to commentators for promoting Bush Administration
programs. Through this “Competitive Sourcing” mechanism, these same
firms can have a long-term role in shaping agency communication practices.

In 2004, the Forest Service spent $113,000 for a public relations firm to design
a campaign to gain public acceptance of the agency plan to increase logging
in California’s Sierra Nevadas. The campaign, titled “Forests With
a Future,” sparked criticism but the Government Accountability Office
ultimately ruled that the contract did not violate prohibitions on using taxpayer
dollars to pay for “publicity or propaganda.”

Ironically, the Forest Service needs to retain contractors in order to prepare
private sector competitions. Previous Bush competitive sourcing plans at the
Forest Service involved possible contracting for law enforcement, biologist
and sylviculturalist positions. The agency spent an estimated $100 million before
Congress stepped in and put the effort on hold.

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Read
the Forest Service announcement on study for contracting public communications
jobs

View
the Forest Service “Communication Plan” for outsourcing public affairs
positions

See
the GAO legal opinion on use of public dollars for “publicity or propaganda”

Look
at the press release from the Forest Council of National Federation of Federal
Employees

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

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