The Government Accountability Office has heard the complaints and they’re listening.
Nearly a year after D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton gathered on Capitol Hill with members of the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the National Newspaper Publishers Association to urge for a new report detailing what federal agencies spend on advertising in black and Hispanic owned newspapers and media companies, the GAO said it will launch a formal investigation.
Norton (D) has been at the forefront of the call, citing that the federal government spends about $1 billion on advertising services each year but very little with minority-owned publications and media companies.
In March 2016, the congresswoman sent a letter to Gene Dodaro, the comptroller general at the U.S. GAO, urging a new investigation and a long overdue follow up to a 2007 GAO report that revealed the lack of advertising by federal agencies in minority-owned media companies.
Norton’s letter was signed by several other members of Congress, including former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield and Reps. Karen Bass of California, Yvette Clarke of New York, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, John Conyers of Michigan, John Lewis of Georgia and Maxine Waters of California — all Democrats.
In December, Norton’s efforts were also joined by Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Cory Booker of New Jersey, who each sent their own letter to the GAO.
“Yes, we have accepted the request,” Chuck Young, the managing director of public affairs for the GAO, said this week. “No start date is set yet, but the first thing we do when such work begins is to determine the full scope of the areas we will cover and the methodology to be used. Once that is all done, then we will have timeframes.”
Through a spokesman, Norton said she was pleased that GAO is moving forward. She also confirmed the office’s receipt of her request.
“The GAO has accepted our request,” said Norton spokesman Benjamin Fritsch.
The congresswoman expects to receive a formal letter in the next few days that documents the acceptance, she said.
“The federal government is the largest advertiser in the United States, and it is important that news outlets and media companies owned or published by people of color with a primary mission to serve communities of color have the same opportunities as other media outlets — especially as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans continue to grow in number in our country,” Norton said.
In 2007, GAO investigated the spending on advertising contracts with minority-owned businesses by five agencies — the Department of Defense, Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — and found that just five percent of the $4.3 billion available for advertising campaigns went to minority-owned businesses.
“The NNPA encourages the GAO today to expedite the completion of this vital and important study,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA. “Billions of dollars are at stake and black Americans and Hispanic Americans should be treated fairly and equitably when it comes to federal spending on advertising across the nation.
“We thank those members of the U.S. Congress who continue to press for the GAO to take action on this matter,” Chavis said. “There is a sense of urgency given the current state of the economy in the United States on issues of inclusion, diversity and equal justice.”
In addition to the update from the GAO, Norton wants more accountability. She noted that the NAHP and NNPA combined reach of 43 million readers each week across the United States.
With close to 97 million African-Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. today — representing 33 percent of the total population — this consumer segment demands attention, Norton said.
Additionally, the buying power of the African-American and Hispanic communities — currently at more than $2.3 trillion combined — continues to outpace the national average, making minority-owned media companies a viable advertising target for all federal and outside agencies.
“News outlets and media companies owned or published by people of color are critical to ensuring that diverse viewpoints are presented to the American people,” Menendez said. “As one of the largest advertisers in the United States, the federal government should play an active role in ensuring that minority-owned media outlets have fair opportunities to compete for and be awarded federal advertising contracts.”
Also, contracting opportunities through the federal marketplace has proven to be a valuable way for firms to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving marketplace, Menendez said.
Lee said the federal government is the largest advertiser in the nation and plays an important role in supporting minority-focused publications that reach African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities — an assessment seconded by Butterfield.
“Historically, there has been a lack of adequate federal government funding granted to disadvantaged and minority-owned advertising agencies,” Butterfield said. “This issue shows the systemic problems that exists across numerous arenas in both the public and private sector.”