HHS offers PR firms $250 million to 'defeat despair and inspire hope' on COVID-19 before January

Trump and HHS leadership
(Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Department of Health and Human Services has offered a contract worth more than $250 million to a communications firm that can mount a public relations campaign on the COVID-19 pandemic, with the vast majority of the money to be spent before January, Politico reports. Among the listed goals of the contract are to "defeat despair and inspire hope, sharing best practices for businesses to operate in the new normal and instill confidence to return to work and restart the economy," according to a "performance work statement" went to more than a dozen firms.

The campaign includes creating public service announcements to persuade Americans to "engage in behavior that actively promote health behaviors or good citizenship," as well as informing the public about vaccine information, treatments, and the phases of reopening the economy, Politico reports. Using traditional and social media, sports and entertainment figures, and other "creative partners" to "deliver important public health and economic information, the administration can defeat despair, inspire hope, and achieve national recovery," the document says.

Using outside communications firms to publicize public health information isn't unheard of at HHS, though the amount of the bid and its timing, right before the presidential election, raised some eyebrows and dovetailed with other concerns about the Trump administration politicizing America's public health apparatus. The winning contractor will work with Michael Caputo, an alumnus of President Trump's 2016 campaign and currently the HHS assistant secretary for public affairs.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.