ABSTRACT: This historical case study reviews and analyzes congressional efforts, from 1967 to 1973, to limit and control military public relations. A review of the effectiveness of the efforts showed that they had, at best, only a limited effect. A major cause of the relative ineffectiveness of this effort was due to the use of counterstrategies by the military that were legal, yet contravened the intent of Congress.
The importance of public relations to administrative agencies suggests that they would be expected to behave as the military did. This means that there are limits to the legislative power of the purse, which, it turns out, may not be the ultimate governmental power to control public bureaucracies after all.
Mordecai Lee is an Assistant Professor of Governmental Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In the early 1970s, two public reports captured civic attention regarding the subject of military public relations. They were the CBS News program "The Selling of the Pentagon" and Senator William Fulbright's book The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. The CBS program was first aired on February 23, 1971. It won an Emmy for documentaries. Fulbright's book was first published in 1970  and then reissued as a paperback in April 1971.  The book was based on a series of floor speeches that the Senator had delivered in the Senate during the week of December 1-5, 1969.  Those speeches had garnered wide media attention. [4,5]
Both the TV program and the book, and especially their tides and the subject matter, resonated so deeply that they became touchstones of that era. Looking back from the perspective of the mid-1990s, an historian referred to the two as an inextricable pair that symbolized the widespread criticism of official government news during the Vietnam War.  A communications faculty member, in 1997, considered the CBS program to be one of the four renowned TV documentaries from 1954 to 1982. 
Yet, these two media events were also the public outcroppings of a policy battle that was being fought on Capitol Hill over the size of the public relations budget of the Department of Defense (DOD). This congressional effort, which began in 1967, was an intense, targeted, and consistent campaign to reduce military public relations budgets. The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee was at the center of these efforts, whereas several other power centers, including the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, were also involved.
The conventional wisdom about leverage in governmental decision making is that the exclusive power of the purse that legislative bodies wield is a unique and unchallengeable power that enables a legislature to impose its will on the executive branch.  According to Rosen, with their appropriations powers, "legislative bodies have the ultimate [emphasis added] power to hold administrators accountable." 
Therefore, an historical review of this effort to cut the military's public relations activities can address several specific questions:
* Was Congress successful at reducing military public relations?
* If it was not, why not?
* Are there any historical lessons about this effort that continue to be relevant today?
THE TRIGGERING OF ATTENTION: CUTTING NAVY PUBLIC RELATIONS
In May 1967, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee was conducting routine hearings on the proposed military public relations budget for fiscal year 1968.  The subcommittee was working its way methodically through the budgets of the military services.
The session on May 5, 1967, was dedicated to the Navy's Operations and Maintenance (O&M) budget proposal. An item in the Navy's budget justification document for its general service-wide activities caught the attention of Congressman George H. Mahon (D-TX), the subcommittee chair. It was a request for $732,000 for public information field activities.
According to the document, this budget line funded three public information metropolitan field offices (MFOs) in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Mahon raised some questions about this budget request, but seemed to have difficulty getting informative answers from Anthony Yannella, comptroller of the Navy's Administrative Office:
Mahon: Are there any other public affairs offices?
Yannella: There are no additional offices contemplated at this time.
Mahon: How much does it cost?
Yannella: In 1968, there are six civilian positions, six man-years and $118,000 for the total cost, 17 military.
Mahon: Is that at each place or is that the total package?
Yannella: That is the total, sir.
Yet, Yannella's statement that the total cost for all three offices was $118,000 did not jibe with the request for $732,000.
Mahon: Could you explain just how the $732,000 would be expended. You make reference to 23 positions, six civilians and 17 military. Are you counting military pay in that as well as civilian pay or how do you account for the requirement of this amount?
Yannella: The $732,000 would cover the entire Office of Information field program which would include not only the Navy Public Affairs Field Offices, but also the Fleet Hometown News Center at Great Lakes which distributes pictures and stories to hometown newspapers dealing with the naval and marine personnel. That is requested at $139,000 of the $732,000. 
Mahon had been a member of the Army Appropriations Subcommittee since 1940 and chair of the Defense Subcommittee since 1949. Yet he appeared to know little about this public relations field program and acted surprised by the answers to his questions. It turned out that this was the budget line for the nonsalary costs of four Navy public relations programs, three metropolitan field offices, the Fleet Hometown News Center (FHTNC), the High School News Service (HSNS) and the Navy-Marine Corps Exhibit Center.
A month later, the House Appropriations Committee released its report on the Defense Appropriations Bill for 1968. The section on the Navy O&M budget contained a short section on public affairs field activities:
The Committee also reduced the request for public information field offices by $200,000 ... The Committee believes that the Navy could carry out this function in a less costly manner.
For instance, the Committee questions whether there is a need to have three field offices to carry out these functions. The Committee believes the Navy should study this program to determine where additional savings could be realized. 
Although the language of the report specifically criticized the number of the Navy's MFOs, the reduction itself was in the Navy's entire public relations field program, which also included FHTNC, HSNS and the exhibit unit.
With the attached committee report, the 1968 Defense Appropriations Bill was sent to the floor of the House of Representatives. It was debated and passed on June 13, 1967, with no further mention of the public relations reduction.
On June 28, 1967, Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus Vance sent Senator Richard B. Russell (D-GA), chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and chair of the full committee, the DOD appeals from the reductions made by the House.  Vance requested that the $200,000 reduction in the Navy public relations field activities be restored. Only two other restoration requests that year were smaller. Most were for millions of dollars, the largest being a restoration request of $136 million. 
On July 13, the subcommittee held a hearing devoted to Navy appeals. In his opening statement, Rear Admiral E. E. Grimm, the Navy director of budgets and reports, declared that unless restored, the $200,000 reduction would have the effect of "completely abolishing the three public affairs field offices"  as well as reducing the other programs within that budget line, such as HSNS. The full restoration of the $200,000 "is required to continue to provide these essential services." 
Following Grimm's opening statement, Senator Russell reviewed each appeal, asking occasionally for additional details. Reaching the public information appeal, he inquired into the operations and scope of the HSNS:
Russell: As I recall your statement, you said that if the House reduction of $200,000 in funds for "public information" is not restored there will have to be a cut in the funds for this activity.
Grimm: That is correct, Mr. Chairman. 
On August 4, 1967, the Senate committee released its report on the DOD appeals. It rejected the Navy public information appeal and concurred with the House's reduction.  The Senate passed the entire Defense Appropriations Bill on August 22. The bill became law on September 29, 1967.
THE NAVY TRIES TO FIGHT BACK
The new law had lowered the lump sum appropriation for Navy public affairs field activities to $532,000. Furthermore, the House report had directed the Navy to "study this program to determine where additional savings could be realized." Although Appropriations Committee reports do not have the force of law, they are one of the ways that Congress exercises its power of the purse.  The DOD considered report recommendations very seriously and treated them virtually as legal directives. According to Horn, at that time DOD had "perhaps the most elaborate machinery for following up on nonstatutory directives." 
In September 1967, the under secretary of the Navy ordered a study of the Navy's public affairs field program. He convened a "panel of experts, included a noted management consultant, along with experts in advertising and public relations" and directed that they review the entire program "bearing in mind the injunction received from the committee, …