There’s a Word for PRSA Falsifying its APR+M Pentagon MOU: Fraud

For more than a decade, PRSA claimed to have a legitimate "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) with the U.S. Dept. of Defense. They were lying.

As always, if there is anything here that is reported without additional necessary context, or if PRSA or the UAB wish to explain themselves for fraudulently claiming for well-more than a decade that a PRSA/UAB MOU actually existed in writing with the U.S. Department of Defense — when clearly it did not — then PRSA officials are welcome to send to me their content, which I will gladly include.

Did the Public Relations Society of America (PRSAfalsify for some 12 years a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in order to sell a PR accreditation to government public affairs workers – invoiced through government channels and paid for with taxpayer dollars to PRSA coffers?

As a preview:

For prior background, PRSA is currently touting April 2021 as “APR Month.”

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The Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) designation – which PRSA is curiously now retooling as an acronym in its social media promotional graphics as “Accomplished / Passionate / Remarkable” – is also offered as a hybrid version… the APR+M, or “Accreditation in Public Relations + Military Communication.”

PRSA has claimed since 2009 that the APR+M version of the APR is “a joint effort among the Universal Accreditation Board (UAB), Department of Defense (DOD) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA),” even publishing prominent reference in the APR+M Study Guide with the following claim about a formal “Memorandum of Understanding,” or MOU, allegedly in existence since 2009 between PRSA and the DoD, which “governed creation” of the APR+M “under terms of the memo.”

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In a 2019 mid-year PRSA committee report to the PRSA National Board, PRSA Universal Accreditation Board volunteers even made reference to “writing test items” for APR+M and other efforts “to update the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Defense.”

The committee report also referenced a special “accelerated pilot process for senior officers to earn APR+M.”

Unlike other PRSA members, military personnel are not required to join PRSA in order to obtain and maintain their special APR.

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By using the term “update” persistently in referencing a need for a new MOU, it was clearly implied that a pre-existing, active version of an MOU had been and was currently in existence

This information — we now know — was false.

To be clear, the APR+M credential (like the regular APR credential) is supposedly managed and overseen by a separate “Universal Accreditation Board,” composed not only of PRSA but other PR associations as well.

However, it’s clear that PRSA commandeers the whole set-up, from its HQ in New York.

PRSA established the UAB itself in its own bylaws, and ALL APR APPLICATION FEES are made payable only to PRSA, as documented on the APR+M application form:

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In mid-January 2021 – just several months ago – I participated (as a PRSA member in good standing and as an APR credential-holder and member of PRSA’s College of Fellows) in a PRSA Board of Ethics & Professional Standards conference call.

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Since I’ve reported many documented concerns for some years now about PRSA national leadership’s non-compliance with key tenets of the PRSA Code of Ethics, I generally tried to participate in such conference calls, to learn what’s new or changed in PRSA that would give rise to ongoing violations and their acceptability by PRSA leadership.

This January 2021 conference call was not just insightful – it was shocking.

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On the call, PRSA’s 2019 PR Professional of the Year – Capt. Brook DeWalt, APR+M, Fellow PRSA (who serves as director of public affairs operations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington, D.C.) – reported that he had just completed execution of PRSA’s new MOU with the Department of Defense, alongside the bombshell admission that PRSA had “lost” its original MOU with the Pentagon many years ago.

Take another listen:

As I sat slack-jawed on the conference call and expressed concern for Brook in the “Chat” function of the ZOOM call, other PRSA members on the call seemed unfazed by the revelation, and texted messages of congratulations and “Kudos!” to Capt. DeWalt.

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At least two participants who were present on the BEPS call are members of PRSA’s National Past Presidents Council:

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  • Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA (who served as PRSA National Chair in 2010, allegedly the year immediately after the “lost” MOU with the DoD was signed); and
  • Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA (who served as PRSA National Chair in 2016, after it apparently was well-known within PRSA executive leadership that there was no MOU and that PRSA was publishing false and misleading information about the MOU in its APR+M Study Guide).

Alarmed, I e-mailed Capt. DeWalt privately to express my concerns about the falsified information PRSA had been touting for well-more than a decade about the existence of the MOU, in a lengthy e-mail also copied to Robert (Bob) Hastings, APR+M, Fellow PRSA, and several others.

Mr. Hastings was referenced in the official APR+M Study Guide (and in Capt. DeWalt’s recorded comments) as a prime signatory of the original alleged MOU.

Mr. Hastings is formerly with the DoD himself and subsequently was a PRSA National Board member in 2017. He is now employed as Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Communications with the powerful military contractor, Bell (Helicopter), in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Here are just a few excerpts of my e-mail to Capt. DeWalt (which I also copied to PRSA’s chair of the Board of Ethics & Professional Standards, BJ Whitman):

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I never heard back from Capt. DeWalt.

In fact, I never heard back from anyone copied on my e-mail of concern about the “lost” MOU.

I did, however, receive only nine days later, on Jan. 28, 2021, a PRSA “Notice of Complaint and Investigation” registered against me – seeking my permanent expulsion from PRSA, stripping me of my own APR credential and revocation of my College of Fellows status.

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The “Notice of Complaint and Investigation” was filed against me by 13 PRSA members, including Gary McCormick and Mark McClennan, the two PRSA Past National Chairs who appeared on the BEPS call in which Capt. DeWalt had made the shocking admission of the “lost” MOU.

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The “Complaint” form — back-dated to 12/22/2020 and filed with a falsified (123) 456-7890 phone number and a grievance312@gmail.com dummy e-mail address with no identification as to the actual owner of it — was signed by 13 individuals, the majority of whom I had registered my own ethics concerns with PRSA National in recent prior years (Note: Complainants D’Angelo, Dvorak and McClennan all had served on the PRSA National Board alongside Robert Hastings of Bell Helicopter).

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The “Complaint” was chock-full — more than 100 pages — of screen shots where I had reported PRSA national leadership misconduct, in innumerable incidents since 2017.

The “Complainants” said I violated PRSA’s Code of Ethics and bylaws by harming PRSA’s “reputation” with my reports of concern and blog posts, etc.

For the entirety of February 2021, I was placed through a stonewalling gauntlet via what I can only best describe as a PRSA “Mary Beth West Degradation Ceremony,” an exercise of extreme infliction of emotional distress upon me as a longtime whistleblower, best described in clinical terms by Longwood University’s Dr. Dorothy Suskind, who specializes in researching workplace bullying.

On March 15, 2021, PRSA Immediate Past National Chair Garland Stansell (pictured below at a past PRSA event – Mr. Stansell is the gentleman seated at far right with glasses and name tag waving to the camera, at the same table as a clearly exuberant Capt. DeWalt seated at left and wearing his College of Fellows medal with the green ribbon) sent to me a letter of permanent expulsion, forbidding me from darkening the door for the remainder of my lifetime of any future PRSA event (or even any PRSSA student event) in any venue, at any level (national, district, chapter / local).

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The below excerpt of a “Report” from the three-person “Grievance Panel” informed the PRSA Executive Committee’s decision to get rid of me, according to Mr. Stansell’s letter to me.

One of the below “Grievance Panel” member signatories (Karen Swim) was also listed twice in the Complainants’ documentation against me as an allegedly aggrieved party — an overt conflict-of-interest (akin to planting a witness for the Plaintiff inside the Jury Box).

Also note that the aforementioned Tweet lauding Capt. DeWalt as 2019 PRSA PR Professional of the Year was posted by Barbara Kerr, another Grievance Panel member, as listed as a signatory below:

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Upon my expulsion from PRSA, I turned over all PRSA Complainant documentation and my response documents that I had registered in PRSA’s kangaroo court, in my own self-referral to the Professional Practices Committee (PPC) of the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) in London, U.K., where I am also a member.

I asked the PRCA’s PPC to investigate me on all charges registered by the 13 Complainants (but relative to the PRCA Code), using all the same evidence and all the same documents as the PRSA “Grievance Panel” and PRSA National Board Exec Comm used to render its judgments against me.

Yesterday, April 6, 2021, the PRCA PPC rendered its decision in the matter and announced the decision publicly:

As a final point of interest, Whistleblower Retaliation exacted against volunteers is illegal for not-for-profit organizations chartered in the State of New York:

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/NPC/715-B

Stay tuned.

Mary Beth West, MPRCA, can be followed on Twitter at @marybethwest. Prior to her expulsion from PRSA after 27 years of membership, she served 20 years ago on the PRSA National Board and received numerous national honors from PRSA and PRSSA. She has spoken extensively on the subject of PR Ethics on the podcast she shares with Kelly Fletcher of Fletcher Marketing PR, “Ms. InterPReted.” 

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