Waste of Government Funds in Public Information Operations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-07-23.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)


Dear Mr. Griffin:                                   lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

       With your letter of June 8, 1971, you enclosed a copy of an
article which appeared recently in The Northside Sun, a Jackson,
Mississippi,   weekly.  The article   cites the large volume of mail
that the paper receives from Federal and State agencies, most of
which is of no value to the paper, and concludes that, if this
condition exists at over 28,000 other news-dispensing media in the
country, there is a substantial     waste of Government funds. You
asked that the General Accounting Office look into this matter and
provide you with its opinion thereon.       You asked also if any study
had ever been undertaken to determine the amount of Federal money
wasted in this manner.
      The General Accounting Office has made no studies to determine
whether the condition mentioned by !Ihe Northside Sun exists through-
out the country and is unaware of any Federal agency studies in this
area. We agree that, should the condition exist, Federal funds are
being wasted. Regarding the costs involved, in 1969 the Post Office
Department and the General Services Administration   transmitted,~.~L~-
improvement guidelines to all Federal agencies.    The objectives    of
mines           were to minimize mailing costs and to improve service.
Since that time various training courses and training aids have been
developed and implemented by the Post Office Department and the
General Services Administration.
       The General Accounting Office from time to time has done some
work in related areas, such as public information
                                          _ -_--- -, operations, public
affairs programs, and hometown nes-centers,      in the Department of
       Several years ago we undertook a review of press release opera-
tions in the civilian      executive agencies.    We conducted surveys at
the offices of the Washington newspapers and wire services and news-
papers in selected other cities.       Our principal   findings,     at some
but not all the agencies, were that (1) the self-mailer           technique
of printing postage indicia and addresses directly         on printed
materials,    rather than using separate envelopes for mailing, was
not used in all suitable cases, (2) news releases announcing the
issuance of agency publications      were sent to recipients      with a copy
of the publication     attached, although the publications       had not been
requested, (3) daily mailings of news releases were made in separate
envelopes rather than consolidated in one envelope to each recipient,
and (4) mailing lists were not circularized        and updated on a timely

                       50 TH ANNIVERSARY     1921- 197

      Cur findings and suggestions for reducing costs were brought
to the attention of the agencies who generally took, or agreed to
take, action to adopt ou3 suggestions.
       The matter of reaching judgments as to who should receive news
releases is a difficult     problem which does not lend itself   to easy
solution.    The factors which determine whether a news release is
newsworthy are many. An editor's       decision on using news releases
is dependent on such things as geographic location of his area,
social and economic status of his audience, and the impact of the
agency's activities     on his audience.
      The Government Printing and Binding Regulations published by      _, _ ,_
the Joint Committee on Printing,     Congress of the United States,
provide that all departments make necessary revisions in their&&l-
ing lists at least once each year, to eliminate waste in Government
f-s     caused by publications t being improperly addressed or mailed
to persons no longer desiring them. This may be a means of avoid-
ing distribution   of news releases to those no longer interested,   if
the departments properly follow the regulation.
      In our work in both the civilian    agencies and the Department
of Defense, we have found that public affairs activities        and pub-
lic information programs are conducted at all levels of the organi-
zations down to and including the local level.        Because of the many
levels of Government that may engage in public affairs activities
and public information programs and because of the dispersal of the
many locations maintaining records of this information,       it would be
a tremendous undertaking to determine the extent of expenditures of
Government funds for such purposes. We believe that there would be
many problems involved in identifying     all the organizations    which
may engage in such activities.      This also applies, it seems, to the
matter of news releases.
      We have no plans at this time to make any studies relating
specifically   to the problems identified  in the newspaper article
you furnished.    No doubt we will be doing further work from time
to time on public information and public affairs progrsms and
will consider your interest in this matter in planning that work.
For more detailed information    as to the nature of our work in those
areas, we are enclosing copies of two of our reports, as follows:


      --Report to the Congress entitled  "Excessive Costs ResuJ.ting
        From the Operation of Separate Departmental Public Informa-
         tion Offices, Department of Defense" (B-146880, Apr. 3,
      --Report to the Secretary of-Defense on the practices
         followed by the hometown news centers of the Depart-
        ments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (B-146830,
        by      27, 1971).
                                       Sincerely   yours,

                              hihuty         oller General
                                       of the United States

Enclosures      - 2

'Ilze Honorable Charles H. Griffin
House of Representatives