Congressmen Seek to Truncate White House Anti-Drug Award

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Ogilvy & Mather's critics in Congress are preparing an effort to cut the agency's hold on the $152 million White House anti-drug use advertising account to at most a single additional year, or perhaps even less than that.

The anti-Ogilvy lawmakers are expected to offer amendments to Senate and House appropriations bills that fund the campaign and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which runs it. The amendments could be offered in the House as soon as Tuesday and in the Senate by month's end.

Lawmakers shocked
Ogilvy, the incumbent agency on the anti-drug use account, was awarded a new contract for the assignment by federal contracting officials this month after a bidding competition with other agencies. The decision shocked some lawmakers, who had attacked Ogilvy for overbilling the government under its current contract.

If the Senate and House take different positions on the new Ogilvy contract, the agency's eventual fate would be up to a House-Senate conference committee that would hammer out final language. Ogilvy last week declined comment.

Bar payments to agency
Acongressional aide said U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., is likely to offer an amendment that would effectively bar funds appropriated for the drug office from being paid to Ogilvy once the government's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. It would prohibit payments to "any entity that has entered into a settlement to pay claims against that entity by the United States

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under the False Claims Act." Ogilvy earlier settled overbilling claims under the False Claims Act by agreeing to pay a $1.8 million penalty.

Congressional backers of the anti-drug ad program worry the language goes too far and could force the drug office's ad program to "go dark" until another ad agency is hired. It might also open the government to lawsuits or claims filed by Ogilvy, according to one congressional source.

An alternative reportedly being considered by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would let the drug office work with Ogilvy on the contract but bar any extension after the new contract's first year. The contract Ogilvy won is renewable annually for up to five years.

Sen. Dorgan, who again criticized the award to Ogilvy last week during a meeting of the Senate appropriations committee, told AdAge.com he hasn't made a final decision. Neither he nor his staff would confirm that a short-term contract was under discussion.

Possible protest
The four losing agencies in the anti-drug use account review have been briefed as to why they lost and federal procurement rules give them five-days in which to file a formal protest. Contenders included Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York, pitching with Initiative Media; Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, pitching with Universal McCann; Cordiant Communications Group's Bates Worldwide, New York, pitching with Zenith Media; and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, also pitching with Zenith. Zenith is owned by Cordiant and Publicis.

Late last week, Bates and Saatchi said they wouldn't protest and the other two gave no indication of their plans.

Losing agencies said they were told Ogilvy had won the account with a "superb" technical proposal that far more clearly than other bids understood the work to be done.

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