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$60,000 to Establish New “Brand” for State Agency

$60,000 to Establish New “Brand” for State Agency

July 8, 2014

This month, the management team at the Puget Sound Partnership – a taxpayer-funded state agency – decided to follow in the footsteps of such famous apparel lines as Nike and American Apparel by establishing its own “brand.”

No other agency has garnered as much public attention – for all the wrong reasons – as the troubled Puget Sound Partnership.

Some of the Partnership’s more publicized expenditures include:  $3,600 for lip balm, $12,000 for personalized vest jackets, $700 for “personalized mahogany gift boxes containing sparkling cider for state officials,” and $40,000 to pay off a whistleblower who had been illegally fired by the Partnership’s 36-year-old executive director (who landed the job because his father was a congressman).

Now, the director of this small 40-person state agency is asking state taxpayers to foot the bill for a $60,000 “rebrand”.

This new proposal has provoked quite a few questions in the minds of Washingtonians, the most obvious being: “Why does a state agency need to have its own brand?”

It’s a good question, but considering the Partnership’s history, this proposal doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary.

By way of introduction, the Puget Sound Partnership was founded in 2007 to help coordinate cleanup efforts in Puget Sound by:

  1. Setting restoration targets;
  2. Establishing clear links between completing restoration projects and progress towards restoration;
  3. Creating a prioritized list of projects to allocate limited funds for environmental restoration; and,
  4. Monitoring progress from completed projects.

Unfortunately, as reported by nonpartisan legislative auditors and ultimately confirmed by the Freedom Foundation’s own report, the Puget Sound Partnership has been unable to perform any of its core responsibilities as a state agency.

Contrary to its claims of being committed to “science-based action and environmental restoration,” the Partnership doesn’t actually spend any time or money cleaning up the environment.

Instead, much of its budget goes to “public outreach,” which includes messaging, marketing campaigns and now, apparently, “branding.”

This is how the Partnership-supported "Puget Sound Starts Here" project justified spending $27,000 to produce a rap music video – complete with professional backup dancers– to underscore the importance of cleaning up your pet’s waste.  It’s also how its leaders justified spending thousands of dollars on Partnership-branded lip balm and personalized vest jackets.  

But how do these expenditures translate into cleaning up Puget Sound?

They don’t. Even worse, they siphon needed tax dollars from agencies that actually do engage in environmental restoration.

In its seven-year existence, the Partnership has managed to divert nearly $48 million from the state’s natural resources budget to provide for its small troupe of office workers.

So what's another $60,000?

For openers, given the Partnership’s penchant for overspending on contracts, $60,000 might be a conservative estimate.

Although the contract states the total budget for the “rebrand” is $60,000, it does leave the door open for higher costs, stating: “[If you] feel that you cannot accomplish the objectives for $60,000, please explain why and provide an estimate of the amount required to complete the objectives.”

For example, in 2010, then-state Auditor Brian Sonntag’s probe found the Partnership had spent $51,000 on a $20,000 contract for a legal firm to set up the nonprofit “Foundation for Puget Sound" that folded two years later when it didn’t receive any donations; yet another example of poor financial choices at the Partnership.

Even worse, the entire contract was illegal; state agencies must use the Attorney General’s Office for all state legal work.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, the Partnership’s $60,000 attempt at image rehabilitation looks to be legal, even though it won’t make Puget Sound any cleaner or give citizens more faith in financial management of state government. When a state agency has so consistently fumbled environmental restoration efforts, neglected its own statutory responsibilities and wasted money intended for improving the environment, no amount of “rebranding” – however costly – will change the public’s perception.

You can view the "brand" proposal here.

Puget Sound Partnership "Rebrand"


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