E&C Republicans Launch Probe in NIH’s Billion-Dollar Public Relations Spending Spree

Probe follows prior scrutiny of taxpayer-funded PR contracts

Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and Subcommittee on Health Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY) today launched an investigation into the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) use of public relations and communications consulting services worth nearly $1,000,000,000. The Chairs began the probe by sending letters to 10 public relations companies that were the main contractors for NIH. 

“Americans have been force fed a constant diet of Anthony Fauci propaganda since the onset of the pandemic. Given previous scrutiny of much smaller sums spent on public relations consultants, we feel it is appropriate and necessary to investigate why NIH has spent nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer funds on these services since 2018. We have an obligation to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, and ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t being spent to silence scientific debate or to promote personalities over effective public health campaigns. That requires a full accounting of every dollar spent,” said Chairs Rodgers, Griffith, and Guthrie. 

What We Know: NIH is outsourcing public relations work to private companies. 

  • In December 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a contract titled “Public Information and Communication Services” (PICS) to a network of 10 public relations companies. 
  • The contract is structured as a multiple award indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract with a base one-year contract and four option years where the NIH pays the companies as it uses their services. 
  • The contract had an initial funding ceiling of $500 million.  
  • In 2021, the contract amount was doubled to $1 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Under the terms of the contract, the 10 public relations firms provide the NIH and its Institutes with “a full range of comprehensive communication, evaluation, and social marketing goods and services.” 
  • This scope of work includes developing “messages and branding programs” with companies providing “a wide range of professional services.”  

Key Historical Background: Public health agencies’ use of public relations agencies and the size of those contracts have been controversial in the past. 

  • In 2020, HHS’s Office of Inspector General found that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) senior leaders did not comply with federal acquisition requirements and did not properly manage personal services contracts related to media consulting for the CMS Administrator. 
  • In 2013, a Committee investigation discovered that between 2006 and 2012 the National Cancer Institute (NCI) alone spent over $381 million on public relation operations.  
  • This was in addition to $44.9 million NCI spent on its in-agency public communications office. 

Goals: Determine how the NIH uses contract public relations firms and whether these are an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and if money was spent to silence scientific debate or pursue a political agenda. 

You can view the letters to: