An advertising agency that places anti-drug messages on television and radio airwaves overcharged the government $1.8 million and is giving half of it back, Justice Department officials said this week.

New York City agency Ogilvy & Mather has received $135 million every year since 1998 for its work in placing the ads, said Jennifer Devallance, a spokeswoman at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which coordinates the federal anti-drug campaigns. 

According to the Department of Justice, between 1999 and 2000, the ad agency based its billing charges for advertising services on "inaccurate" time sheets.  DOJ accused the company's management of not exercising "reasonable control to ensure that billings for labor were accurate."

As a result, the agency has agreed to pay back $689,744 in cash and resubmit amended claims to reflect a reduction in costs of $1,150,256.

Assistant Attorney General Robert McCallum heralded the settlement as a victory for fiscal accountability, noting, "the settlement illustrates the United States' determination to recover funds inappropriately billed on government contracts."

But this is not the end of Ogilvy & Mather's work for the drug control office, according to Devallance. "We are happy with their past performance," she said. "Because of their expertise and ability to leverage our buys, we have been able to reach 90 percent of our target audience at least four times a week."

That audience is America's youth, and they are reflected in the government's pervasive ad campaigns, including the latest "Drugs and Terror" ad linking drug abuse to terrorism, which made its debut during the Super Bowl.

Devallance said the ad campaign is proceeding as it should but would not specify whether the contract would be renewed for 2002. 

"Having said that, we are a responsible fiduciary of the public purse and we want to make sure we get the best bang for the public’s buck. We want to make sure all of our t's are crossed and our i's dotted," she said.