A new Social Security war room inside the Treasury Department is pumping out information to sell President Bush's plan, much like any political campaign might do.
The internal, taxpayer-funded campaigning is backed up by advertisements, grass-roots organizing and lobbying from business and other groups that support the plan.
The president's opponents are organized, too, though they do not have the resources of the White House or Treasury to sell their message.
For the administration, the communications effort is being coordinated out of Treasury's public affairs office through the new Social Security Information Center. Three people have been hired so far, each a veteran of either the Bush-Cheney campaign or the Republican National Committee.
"The uber purpose is to centralize and coordinate the administration's public affairs and communication activities," said Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols.
To sell the Social Security plan, the administration has launched a two-month travel blitz by administration officials, including Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary John Snow, as well as other Cabinet officers and White House aides. The center is coordinating their schedules.
It is developing talking points to ensure that all officials are "singing off the same song sheet," Nichols said. And it will soon launch a Web site featuring the president's comments on the issue, copies of speeches and news stories and columns that are supportive of the plan.
Additionally, it will deliver "rapid response" to media coverage it doesn't like. "If there is an editorial in a paper that does not reflect the view of the president, they will engage in the traditional rapid response effort to ensure an op-ed or letter to the editor that states our view," Nichols said.
The center is sending e-mails highlighting positive press coverage to thousands of people, including reporters and members of the public.
Similar communications groups were used by President Clinton to promote his policies. Still, some question the use of government money for a political agenda.
"They have the right to say their piece and to respond, but to create a whole team of PR experts to try and influence the media, I think, is an excessive use of taxpayer money," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
Nichols responded that raising public awareness about issues is part of Treasury's job.
"Financial education and literacy is part of the department's mission," he said.
ASSOCIATED PRESS March 6, 2005 WASHINGTON.