NOVEMBER 05, 2013
A marketing firm with close ties to the president got a plum no-bid contract for $100,000 to design the “Let’s Move” logo for Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign, according to government documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
The arrangement violates federal contracting rules and is even acknowledged by federal officials as an “unauthorized commitment,” the records obtained by JW show. As a result the agency that illegally awarded the contract, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), prepared a “request for ratification of an unauthorized commitment” to legitimize the expenditure. The justification provided to JW as part of the records is that the program was too important and time-sensitive for the official who awarded the no-bid deal to research the rules.
In all, JW obtained 44 pages of documents from the USDA, the agency largely in charge of distributing funds for the First Lady’s $4.5 billion measure (Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) to revolutionize the inner-city diet and conquer childhood obesity. Among the documents is a scathing electronic mail exchange between the USDA Deputy Director (Jodey Edwards) in the Office of Procurement & Property Management and an agency administrative officer named Yvette Ward. Edwards asks “What did we get for our money … any deliverable? I know this is an unauthorized commitment: however the contractor still must provide evidence of what is being paid for …”
The firm that raked in the cash is Shepardson, Stern & Kaminsky (SS+K), which had previously served as the official agency for Obama for America’s youth initiatives in both 2008 and 2012. SS+K also received a sweet $2 million deal from the Obama Department of Education for the “TEACH” teacher recruitment campaign in 2010. Before the Obama administration started doling out money to the little-known firm, it had landed only one government contract—awarded in 2002 by the Department of Defense—worth $50,000.
The SS+K team that worked on “Let’s Move” consisted of the following: Robert Shepardson a partner in the firm who previously led SS+K’s work on Obama political campaigns; Marty Cooke, who is no longer with SS+K but served as creative director during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign; Rebecca Matovic, a partner who also did work for the Gates Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, and the governments of Bolivia and Colombia.
The USDA official who inappropriately authorized the no-bid “Let’s Move” slogan deal appears to have been a political appointee named David Lazarus, the records obtained by JW show. Lazarus is a former senior advisor to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack who previously served as National Rural Vote Deputy Director for Obama for America and as an advisor to the Obama-Biden transition team.
Not surprisingly, no significant action was taken against the parties responsible for the violation. Senior procurement officials simply spoke with the offender to “explain the procurement process,” according to the records. Training on procurement rules was subsequently provided to all senior advisors, the files further reveal, adding this: “The Senior Procurement Executive had intended to provide this seminar as part of the training that was given to new incoming political appointees at the start of the administration, but thought administrative oversight this wasn’t done.”
“Let’s Move” is described as “America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids,” a comprehensive initiative launched by the First Lady dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity. The goal is to solve this crisis within a generation, according to the “Let’s Move” website, by among other things, ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. Looking at the website and the slogan that cost U.S. taxpayers $100,000, it’s difficult to see the “time-sensitive” importance that could justify a no-bid contract.
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