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Two Public Relations Firms File Protest of EPA Sole-Source Media Clipping Contract

Dec. 19, 2017

Two Public Relations Firms File Protest of EPA Sole-Source Media Clipping Contract

Contract Awarded to Republican Group Specializing in Opposition Research Should Be Rescinded

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A sole-source $125,000 contract for media clipping services awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was impermissibly awarded and should be rescinded so an open bidding process can take place, two public relations firms said in a protest filed late Monday.

The EPA awarded the contract on Dec. 7 to Definers Corp., known as a Republican PR firm specializing in opposition research. Public Citizen filed the protest on behalf of Fenton Communications and New Heights Communications.

Federal law establishes that full and open competition is the standard means for contracting. Although the process may be less formal for smaller contracts, agencies are supposed to promote competition. In this case, the contract was awarded on a sole-source basis for what EPA spokespeople have described as a clipping service. Dozens of firms, including the two lodging this bid protest, can perform such work.

“Everything about this contract looks bad,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “In the best-case scenario, the contract was outrageously issued on a sole-source basis for work that dozens of firms could perform, to a partisan firm that just so happens to be investigating EPA employees for opposition to President Donald Trump’s anti-science agenda. In the worst-case scenario, something far more nefarious is going on.”

Both Fenton and New Heights Communications routinely collect news clips and provide analysis of media coverage of their clients. Fenton and New Heights Communications have performed work for government contracts in the past, and both said they would have offered a bid had it been solicited.

“As a public relations agency that for 35 years has helped our clients track environmental issues in the media, Fenton welcomes the opportunity to provide media monitoring services for the EPA to help them with their mission to protect human health and the environment,” said Fenton CEO Ben Wyskida.

Added Christy Setzer, president of New Heights Communications, “New Heights Communications has a long and proud history of crafting and implementing communications strategies for environmental advocacy organizations and actors. We’d be happy to bid on such a contract, were the option presented.”

According to news reports, the Definers Corp. contract is a successor contract to a $207,597 contract awarded on Feb. 25, 2016, to Bulletin Intelligence, Inc. That contract was competitively bid, in a simplified process involving eight bidders.

There are exceptions to the strong presumption of competitive bidding. These include instances where this is “only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements,” where there is an urgent condition, where there is a public interest rationale, or in national security and other grounds that are not relevant in this case.

Read the protest letter.