Washington The Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that a third conservative columnist was paid to assist in promoting a Bush administration policy.
Columnist Mike McManus received $10,000 to train marriage counselors as part of the agency's initiative promoting marriage to build strong families, said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families.
The disclosure came as the Government Accountability Office sent a letter to the Education Department on Friday asking for all materials related to its contract dealings with a prominent conservative media commentator.
That department, through a contract with the public relations firm Ketchum, hired commentator Armstrong Williams to produce ads that featured former Education Secretary Rod Paige and promoted President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. The contract also committed Williams, who is black, to provide media access for Paige and to persuade other black journalists to talk about the law.
Federal law bans the use of public money on propaganda.
The Education Department received the GAO's letter and is reviewing it, said department spokeswoman Susan Aspey. "Secretary Spelling has made it very clear she is getting to the bottom of this," Aspey said.
Margaret Spellings started this week, replacing Paige.
In a letter to Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, dated Friday, Spellings wrote, "At this point, what I can say is that at a minimum, there were errors of judgments at the Department, and I am diligently working to get to the bottom of it all."
The lawmakers are the chairman and the ranking member of a panel that oversees education spending, and their subcommittee is looking into the matter.
Earlier this week, Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries not to hire columnists to promote administration agendas. The declaration was prompted by reports that Williams and another columnist, Maggie Gallagher, had been paid by the administration.