Anti-O&M Junta in Congress Aims to Trim Drug Account Tenure

24 July 2002

The White House anti-drug abuse advertising account, which reappointed Ogilvy & Mather earlier this month to the fury of a few and the astonishment of many [WAMN: 05/12/16-Jul-02], may not remain in the hands of the WPP-owned shop for the whole of its five-year tenure.

The renewal of O&M’s contract by the Office of National Drug Control Policy is a considerable surprise, after a former O&M staffer claimed the shop had altered timesheets and overcharged the ONDCP for work undertaken in 1999 [WAMN: 05-Oct-00]. Although the agency refuted the allegations, pleading unfamiliarity with government accounting procedures, it eventually settled the matter with the Justice Department at a cost of $1.8m and has since amended its accounting practices.

The new contract, which is renewable annually, is worth $152 million (€153.38m; £97.06m) in its first full year alone and will run from October 1 – the start of the government’s fiscal year. But there are moves afoot in Congress to restrict the term to one year or even less.

The most extreme scenario is via a budget amendment drafted by arch-critic Representative Bob Barr (Republican, Georgia), who is determined to block the reappointment any which way he can. Word from Capitol Hill is that Barr and others will back an amendment effectively prohibiting drug office funds from being paid to Ogilvy as of the start of the new fiscal year. This would prevent payments to “any entity that has entered into a settlement to pay claims against that entity by the United States under the False Claims Act.”

Another vocal critic, Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat, North Dakota), is said to back a less draconian measure that would allow Ogilvy to take-up the contract but bar any extension after its first year.

Meantime, the four unsuccessful New York creative/media parings that pitched for the business – Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide/Initiative Media; McCann-Erickson Worldwide/Universal McCann; Bates Worldwide/Zenith Media; and Saatchi & Saatchi/also with Zenith – have been formally briefed as to the reason underlying the decision.

This is said to be a “superb” technical proposal from O&M that “far more clearly” understood the work to be done than the other contenders. Under federal procurement rules, they now have five days in which to formally appeal that decision. Bates and Saatchi have already indicated they will let matters rest; FCB and McCann have yet to declare their hands.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff