A transparency advocacy group’s report charging nine federal offices with wasteful spending on commemorative items mischaracterized $700,000 spent by the Homeland Security Department inspector general’s office, the IG said in a statement released Thursday.
Cause of Action, a nonprofit watch group, recently published results of a study based on Freedom of Information Act requests listing agencies it said spent some $1.1 million on promotional items in possible violation of President Obama’s November 2011 executive order curbing spending on “swag,” among other items.
That report “inaccurately combined the OIG’s employee performance award program with an array of questionable, wasteful government agency outlays for commemorative coins and other trinkets,” the IG said in a press release. The OIG said it had earlier provided documents to Cause of Action showing that the $700,000 actually covered year-end performance awards for 700 employees, described as “spot cash awards.”
The IG faulted Cause of Action for publishing its analysis without seeking comment or verifying its interpretation. The nonprofit declined to retract its assertion, according to a DHS IG spokesman.
The awards program “entails employee bonuses and performance incentives, not promotional items,” acting Inspector General Charles K. Edwards said. The 700 employees “are eligible for various monetary awards if they excel at their jobs or exceed expectations. Even as we strive to recognize outstanding employee achievement with this program, we are pretty careful on how much money we spend.”
In response to the criticisms, Cause of Action said its report characterized the $700,000 in spending as “awards” and “never identified this spending as based on trinkets, plaques or commemorative items.” Furthermore, the Homeland Security inspector general’s FOIA office produced information on the awards program in response to a request for documents on “promotional items,” Cause of Action said.
“CoA focused on award spending to determine whether federal agencies had the ability to account for what would be assumed to be an insubstantial amount of federal expenditures: promotional items,” the group stated. “Yet the fact that DHS OIG’s own FOIA office did not, in the opinion of the OIG, accurately classify the records produced …. signals that CoA’s concerns are not only real, but justified.”