USDA Hired Journalist to Promote Programs

The Agriculture Department paid a freelance writer for stories in hunting and fishing magazines where he promoted the agency's conservation efforts.

The writer, Dave Smith (search), later was hired by the department. He is now a biologist for the department's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Missoula, Mont.

President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries in January not to hire journalists to promote the government's agenda. At the time, Bush said his administration and the press should have "a nice independent relationship."

Bush issued the order after it was disclosed that agencies had paid one columnist, Maggie Gallagher (search), to promote a marriage initiative and a second, Armstrong Williams (search), to promote the No Child Left Behind education law.

Under Smith's contract, which is posted with other public relations contracts on the department's Web site, he was to be paid $9,375 to write five stories about conservation programs and try to get them placed in the magazines. The department said he was paid $8,625.

Three of Smith's stories ran in the magazines Outdoor Oklahoma and Washington-Oregon Game & Fish. The Oklahoma publication, published by the state's Wildlife Conservation Department, identified Smith as a freelance outdoor writer and biologist working for conservation service.

Agriculture Department spokesman Ed Loyd said the department had expected to be identified as having paid for the articles. Loyd said the department is working on a formal policy on the issue.

"We don't think that paying journalists to promote government programs is a proper use of funds," Loyd said.