House Democrats want information on $ 250 million contract on coronovirus PR campaign

The contract, which was advertised over the summer, worked to “inspire defeat and disappointment,” according to a performance work document sent to communications companies and first reported by Politico in August. .

House Oversight Committee Chairman Caroline Maloney, Jim Clyb, Chairman of the Selection Committee on Coronavirus and Chairman of the Subcommittee, Raja Krishnamurthy sent letters to both Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Ben Garthwaite, who are the Chief Executive Officers of the Furs Marsh Group. , A market research firm that eventually got the contract.

“We have serious concerns that, instead of focusing on planning and executing a national strategy to control coronovirus, the Trump administration appears to be a political campaign two months ago to fund taxpayers’ money. Is using a quarter of a billion dollars. ” A presidential election, ”the House Democrats wrote in their letters.

Democrats also wrote “To address the frustration many Americans are experiencing during this epidemic, the administration needs to be honest about Americans’ risks and promote science-based solutions – do not spin political – Finally to stop the virus and prevent more unnecessary infections. More deaths. “

“The public relations firm hired by HHS will report to Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, a former campaign operator for President Trump and not a public health professional,” the letter says.

The Fors Marsh Group admitted to receiving the letter on Friday morning.

“We are reviewing and will certainly cooperate with all parties and collaborate in doing so,” Force Marsh Group CEO Ben Garthwaite said in a statement.

A public health communications specialist for the US Department of Health and Human Services said public service announcements would affect several topics. Some, for example, would insist on “Three W’s” – wearing masks, viewing distances (social distance) and washing hands. Others will educate about vaccines against the flu and Kovid-19.

Mark Weber is leading the Kovid-19 campaign. He has worked for HHS for 31 years and has developed public health campaigns under five presidential administrations.

“I’m about public health, not politics.”

Weber noted the questions that were asked about how the contract was awarded.

“It was contested, and those proposals were reviewed by career federal officials, not political appointees, who recommended, and the organization that came up with the best proposal, won,” he said.

Some announcements have already aired, such as encouraging the donation of convocation plasma by those recovering from Kovid-19, which went out a month ago on outdoor and digital advertising in 18 markets, which is particularly difficult Viruses have been hit.

The campaign is spending about $ 650,000 to make announcements aimed at encouraging black people and Latino to participate in clinical trials for Kovid-19 vaccines. The spots, which were developed by a team hired by the National Institutes of Health, have already aired.

HHS is currently developing announcements that will link public health experts with actors, musicians and athletes to educate people about Kovid-19.

The plan is that experts include the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci will be involved; Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration; Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams; Rear Adam Dr Erica Schwartz, Deputy Surgeon General; As well as Alex Azar, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services; Seema Verma, Administrator of Medicare & Medicaid Services Centers; And rear Adam. Michael Wehki, Director of the Indian Health Service.

The letter comes just days after a new audio recording between President Donald Trump and journalist Bob Woodward showed the president intentionally reducing the severity of coronovirus in March.

“I’ve always wanted to play it,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, even before he declared a national emergency before the virus. “I’m still enjoying playing it, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Using an administration or public relations firm to help craft a message or conduct research about public health is not unprecedented for the administration. Fors Marsh lists several previous campaigns on its websites, including that it has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Food and Drug Administration on issues related to childhood and asthma and rural health habits. And while former President Barack Obama was trying to educate and sell Americans on the Affordable Care Act, the administration spent millions on advertising to get people signed up.

Nevertheless, House Democrats are requesting that the contract between Health and Human Services and For Marsh be suspended until they get a “full and unrestricted” contract “and all the documents and communications that the contractual contracting process requires. Are related to or related to. ” Democrats also want to receive assurances that no advertising campaign will contain excessive political messages.

The committee is also asking for a staff briefing by 28 September.

This story has been updated with additional developments on Friday.

Jacqueline Howard of CNN contributed to this report.


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