Congress Seeks Probe of Defense Ad Expenses

WASHINGTON — Congress is urging the comptroller general to study the Department of Defense’s ad contracts for cost-effectiveness, and it recommends slashing the proposed budget for the department’s Joint Recruiting Advertising Program by about half, or $24 million.

The recommendation is contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, which passed both houses of Congress in June. The bill has not yet been signed by the president and could still be changed when Congress is back in session.

The Defense Department asked to double JRAP’s budget from an estimated $15-20 million to about $40 million to accommodate a larger, multimedia campaign aimed at parents. The department spends an estimated $250 million on advertising each year.

Meanwhile, the department this month directed Interpublic Group’s Mullen to start work on JRAP. Mullen won the account in January, but money for the program until now had been diverted to the war on terrorism. This year’s remaining budget is not likely to be more than $200,000, sources said.

The bill is another sign that lawmakers are increasingly scrutinizing federal ad contracts. Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., for example, is investigating possible billing irregularities in the U.S. Army’s $95 million contract with Leo Burnett, Chicago. And Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., sponsored an amendment to keep Ogilvy & Mather, New York, from working on the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s anti-drug media campaign [Adweek, July 29]. The authorization bill requires that the study evaluate “the justification for each service’s advertising-budget request, metrics used to determine the cost-effectiveness of each of the advertising programs, whether the advertising mediums are appropriate and the relationship of advertising budgets to recruiting outcomes.” A department rep declined comment, saying Congress has not “finalized its actions on the program.”