OGILVY DRUG OFFICE WIN ROUSES LEGISLATORS

Congressman Demands Documents; Other Scrutiny Expected

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The surprise award of the White House drug office advertising contract to WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide -- the same agency that paid out $1.8 million to settle allegations that it overbilled the government -- is starting to draw congressional attention.

On a day the full House Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would cut the government's overall spending on the anti-drug media campaign by $10 million to $170 million -- but require $150 million of that to be devoted to media buys -- the chairman of another House panel was writing the U.S. Navy asking for documents relating to the contract award.

Documents sought
Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of a House Government Reform panel is writing the U.S. Navy, which handled the contracting process, today is asking for papers explaining the award of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy account to Ogilvy, and aide for the congressman said.

The letter asks the Navy to provide the committee with copies of all five bid proposals, information utilized to evaluate the proposal, scores on each proposal, information submitted by the drug office on bidders past performance and any memos or other documents outlining the Navy's recommendations.

An aide said Rep. Souder

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wants "a thorough review of the process" but has not at this time made any decision to challenge the review.

A drug office spokesman last week told Advertising Age that Ogilvy, which settled for $1.8 million accusations that it overbilled the government on the account, had altered its billing practices to comply with government billing standards.

"It is important to keep in mind that Ogilvy did respond to the criticism and changed their practices, and did comply with all the recommendations in the [General Accounting Office] report," said Tom Riley, the office's public affairs director. "Since Ogilvy was not debarred, it would have been illegal for us to have excluded them from the competition. The Navy made the evaluation."

The contract is also expected to be discussed Thursday when a Senate panel meets to mark up an appropriations bill that funds the anti-drug ad campaign. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has been critical of the drug office for keeping Ogilvy.

Late decision
The award to Ogilvy came late July 3 on the eve of a holiday weekend when congressional officials already were out of Washington. Ogilvy won a one-year contract that can be renewed annually for up to four more years. Ogilvy will do strategic research and media planning, with sibling Mindshare doing the complicated media buying that is required for the account. Media companies have to match each paid ad with a free ad.

Creative for the campaign comes from the Partnership for Drug Free America.

The award to Ogilvy also comes as the drug office faces a congressional battle over its budget and the ad contract because of a recent report suggesting the campaign has not been effective at targeting youth.

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