Agencies still buying iPods, yo-yos, coins and other swag

Mike Flippo/

This story has been updated.

Nine agency offices may have violated a presidential order by continuing to purchase promotional items such as coins, clothing and plaques, according to an investigation by the right-leaning nonprofit government accountability group Cause of Action.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests and other public documents, the report released Tuesday concluded that President Obama’s November 2011 executive order cracking down on spending on so-called swag -- a part of the administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste -- is being ignored. It documents $1.1 million spent on items such as yo-yos, water bottles, iPods, mobile devices, trophies and other awards.

Examples include:

  • The Agriculture Department Rural Development Office in Kansas spent $38,870 on Global Positioning Systems, Nook 3G digital readers, Apple iPods and Nikon Coolpix cameras for staff;
  • The Justice Department’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services program paid more than $12,000 for commemorative items for a single conference;
  • The Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General bought nearly $700,000 worth of awards in fiscal 2010;
  • The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service spent more than $86,000 on commemorative items from 2009 to 2012.

“A cavalier attitude toward the efficient use of tax dollars permeates the executive branch,” Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, said in a statement. “While some agencies track their spending, revealing patterns of waste, others don’t even bother to document it. The Department of Defense, with one of the largest budgets, informed Cause of Action that it has no means of tracking promotional spending, rendering accountability impossible.”

The other offices mentioned include the Energy Department Office of the Inspector General and Agriculture’s Forest Service -- Alaska and Southwestern regions -- and its Food and Safety Service. Some of the expenses were incurred before the Obama executive order.

“Cause of Action also determined that in some instances agencies were exercising fiscal responsibility by purchasing items from more economical vendors or choosing products that were cost-effective,” the report said. “However, spending swings from responsible to excessive without reason. Overall, a pattern emerges from the data that demonstrates a spending problem in multiple agencies, including failures to track and document spending on promotional items, making accountability impossible.”

Asked to respond, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack, said, “As part of the president's Campaign to Cut Waste, the administration is aggressively tackling unnecessary spending to ensure we are serving America's families as efficiently as possible. As a result of the president’s directive on inefficient spending, we have already cut $4 billion in costs and are on track to achieve $8 billion in reductions by slashing spending in administrative areas such as travel, fleet, printing and promotional items by the end of fiscal 2013.”

Cause of action sent FOIA requests to 23 agencies following the April scandal over lavish spending on commemorative coins and other nonessentials at a training conference by the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration. The group analyzed results from 32 offices.

(Image via Mike Flippo/

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