It’s been a big year for revelations about who’s on federal agency payrolls. It started when the Education Department admitted to ponying up $240,000 to columnist and commentator Armstrong Williams to hype the No Child Left Behind policy. Then Health and Human Services said that it had paid two columnists to promote marriage initiatives. Finally, this trend in genius government expenditures hit close to home in May when the Agriculture Department admitted that it had hired a freelance writer, paying him nearly $10,000, to write favorable stories about the agency’s Natural Resources Conservation Service programs, and to try to place them in hunting and fishing magazines. The pieces dealt with the use of money from a 2002 agricultural subsidy bill for wetlands preservation in Oklahoma and the Northwest. Although the writer revealed this arrangement to his editors and declined payment from either publication, that disclosure was never relayed to the readers of the three articles that ran last year in Outdoor Oklahoma and Washington-Oregon Game & Fish.

The feds say that they will crack down on such activities. Fortunately for free-lancers, those words and actions have yet to mesh–a situation which all the writers currently lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue with hands out and lap-tops ready hope will endure for many years. –BILL HEAVEY