WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had an image problem. For months last year the agency had been pummeled by Congress for poor inspections of tainted vegetables, drugs and other products.
FDA leaders decided to hire a contractor for a public relations campaign that would "create and foster a lasting positive public image of the agency for the American public," according to agency documents.
No competition was held to get the lowest bid for the $300,000 contract, as prescribed by government policy. Instead, FDA officials came up with a plan to ensure the work would go to a Washington public relations company with ties to the FDA official arranging the deal.
The contract was awarded in July to Alaska Newspapers Inc., a firm owned by an Alaska Native company that does not have to compete for federal work because it qualifies for set-asides. The idea was for the company to hand over the work to Qorvis Communications, the Washington firm, documents show.
After being made aware of the Post's findings in September, FDA Deputy Commissioner John Dyer suspended the contract and ordered an investigation.
"Whatever the findings are on this one contract, the FDA has full confidence in the integrity of its contracting procedures as verified by independent third-party reviews conducted several times a year," Dyer said in a statement Monday.
ANI and its parent company, Calista Corp., did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.