Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Agency Criticizes Contract between Usda, Pollster

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Agency Criticizes Contract between Usda, Pollster

Article excerpt

The Agriculture Department improperly awarded a $25,000 contract to a leading Democratic pollster after a private dinner between the pollster and one of the department's top political appointees, the General Accounting Office has told Congress.

The GAO stopped short of agreeing with Republican charges that the 1995 contract was purely political. It was awarded after Agriculture Undersecretary Ellen Haas met with pollster Celinda Lake.

But officials said Wednesday that the first draft of Lake's report on four focus groups she conducted for the department was replete with political jargon and references.

"We believe that (the department) exercised questionable judgment in conducting virtually every aspect of this work," said Keith O. Fultz, an assistant GAO comptroller general.

He said department officials broke two contracting laws by rushing to award a contract to stage focus groups on the federal food stamp program to Lake Research after the dinner meeting. …

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