[1/11/17]  Federal employees spend more than $1 billion a year boosting the government’s image, including the salaries of an estimated 5,000 official “spokesmen” who often ignore questions from reporters about agency operations and try to distract public attention away from embarrassing scandals.

“A good product sells itself. So what does it say when more than $1.4 billion is spent every year promoting federal agencies and services but trust and confidence in the government have plummeted?” wrote Sen. Jeff Flake, who called attention to the government’s concern with manipulating its image in Wastebook, a compendium of questionable government spending.

“Federal agencies could improve their public relations at no cost whatsoever by simply conducting themselves efficiently and effectively,” the Arizona Republican wrote.

But too often the response of federal departments and agencies to scandals and reporter questioning is to either ignore the queries or to seek to shift public attention to other matters by hiring additional public relations people.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for example, increased its public relations staff from 144 to 286 in the past eight years, according to Wastebook. One of the projects the staff came up with to counter coverage of VA bosses retaliating against whistleblowers was propaganda materials based on the theme of “I will talk positively about my workplace to others.”