The federal government hired a New Orleans man for $18,000 to appraise whether news stories about its actions in the Gulf oil spill were positive or negative for the Obama administration, which was keenly sensitive to comparisons between its response and former President George W. Bush's much-maligned reaction to Hurricane Katrina.
The government also spent $10,000 for just over three minutes of video showing a routine offshore rig inspection for news organizations but couldn't say whether any ran the footage. And it awarded a $216,625 no-bid contract for a survey of seabirds to an environmental group that has criticized what it calls the "extreme anti-conservation record" of Sarah Palin, a possible 2012 rival to President Barack Obama.
The contracts were among hundreds reviewed by The Associated Press as the government begins to provide an early glimpse at federal spending since the Gulf disaster in April. While most of the contracts don't raise alarms, some could provide ammunition for critics of government waste.