Fraud Gets Firm Banned from Anti-Drug Ads

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The future of the nation’s youth anti-drug media campaign – its effectiveness already under scrutiny – grew a shade dimmer when the House of Representatives recently voted to block funding to the company that provides the ads.

“The prohibition will have substantial debilitating effects on the media campaign,” said Christopher M. Marston, deputy chief of staff for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which directs the program. Marston testified before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources on July 26.

House members approved the measure, an amendment to an appropriations bill (HR 5120) that governs the White House offices, by voice vote two days earlier because of past fraud charges against the agency, Ogilvy and Mather of New York.

“This media campaign is too important to allow a company that has already admitted to defrauding the government … to receive more taxpayer dollars at this time,” amendment sponsor Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said on the House floor. Contracts “should be limited to companies with a good, honorable, upstanding, noncorruptable track record in dealing with the government.”

Ogilvy was awarded the $152 million contract July 3, five months after the agency agreed to a $1.8 million settlement with the government for overcharging for services through previous contracts with the ONDCP. The company won its first youth anti-drug campaign contract in 1999.

According to the Department of the Navy, which is overseeing the contract on behalf of the ONDCP, the contract contained options worth $762 million. The Navy approved the new contract after the fraud settlement because it was the “best value to the government” and “the contractor’s past problems have been identified and corrective measures implemented,” a Navy official told the House subcommittee.

Other subcommittee witnesses said the ad campaign would not likely be damaged by voiding the contract.

“There is very little chance of any serious disruption to the media campaign,” said Albert J. Martin, a marketing and advertising consultant.

A recent review questioned the effectiveness of the campaign, which has cost nearly $1 billion so far (“Drug Czar Pans Ads,” Youth Today, June 2002). The review led Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to reduce ad campaign funding from the proposed $180 million to $100 million in the Senate version of the appropriations bill (S 2740). The House bill includes $170 million.

Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the ONDCP, was also critical of Ogilvy and Mather. Although the Senate bill is silent on the contract, “there may well be an amendment offered on the floor that deals with this, possibly in another way,” Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt said.

Contact: ONDCP,