Walters Extends PR Contract

Friday, 05 July 2024 07:05

Walters Extends PR Contract Featured

Written by Jennifer Palmer, OklahomaWatch
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The Department of Education extended its contract with a Washington, D.C., area public relations firm. 

Records show that the agency hired Vought Strategies last year to book interviews with national media outlets, write op-eds and speeches, and increase Superintendent Ryan Walters’ national exposure. The firm first worked as a vendor, then signed a four-month contract ending June 30, with the possibility of three one-year extensions. 

The Office of Management and Enterprises Services, the state’s contracting agency, on Tuesday confirmed the contract extension. Dan Isett, the department’s director of communications, didn’t respond to Oklahoma Watch’s inquiries.   

People have criticized the deal, calling it self-promotion at the public’s expense. The Oklahoma Legislature attempted to rein in the Education Department’s spending on public relations. The measure passed the House of Representatives 57-35 on the last day of the legislative session. But on June 14, Gov. Kevin Stitt line-item vetoed the measure and instead issued a broader executive order that applies to all state agencies. 

“We all have to remember, the money we spend doesn’t belong to us — it belongs to Oklahoma taxpayers,” Stitt said in a written statement announcing the executive order. “It makes no sense for state agencies who pay the salaries of communications staff to outsource work to PR firms via sole source contracts. It’s wasteful and we’re putting a stop to it statewide.” 

The executive order prohibits sole-source contracts with public relations, marketing and communications vendors and bans state agencies from spending tax money on self-promotion or promoting matters outside the agency’s scope. 

Walters has said Stitt’s executive order doesn’t apply to the Vought Strategies deal or other agency contracts because they were issued under the state’s competitive bidding process. Vought was the only bidder.

Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, who led efforts to limit the Education Department’s public relations spending, said he agreed to support the governor’s line-item veto and subsequent executive order if it applied to every agency, including the Department of Education.

“In conversations with the governor, this was meant to apply to all agencies,” he said. 

Communications staff for the governor could not be reached Wednesday.

 

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education.

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