In five years before the Obama administration clamped down on agency swag, a division of the U.S. Marshals Service spent thousands of dollars on commemorative coins and blankets, neckties, scarves and lapel pins bedecked with the agency’s seal, according to a Justice Department inspector general report .
Acting in response to an anonymous hotline tip, the auditors found that the Marshals Service’s Investigative Operations Division “spent at least $793,118 on promotional items during fiscal years 2005 to 2010 and that these expenditures were excessive and, in some instances, in contravention of department policies and Government Accountability Office decisions and guidance.”
Much of the spending was done at the end of the fiscal years, the report said, adding that the division’s spending rose by 975 percent during the six years examined, aided by an absence of internal controls and accountability within the Marshals Service.
Examples included $155,081 spent on USMS challenge coins, $11,338 on neckties and silk scarves bearing the USMS seal, $13,605 on USMS-themed Christmas ornaments, $16,084 on USMS-themed blankets and throws, and $36,596 on USMS lapel pins.
In its legal analysis of the violations, the IG’s office noted that “as a general rule, appropriated funds may not be used to purchase personal gifts for government employees or the public. However, an agency may want to use appropriated funds for gifts to attract attention to the agency or agency programs. Under the necessary expense doctrine, described above, an agency may purchase items in the nature of gifts or souvenirs only if there is a direct link between the items and the agency’s purpose for which Congress has appropriated funding.”
The Marshals Service swag purchasing was ended in 2011 after Justice circulated a series of memos on over-spending.
The IG report recommended that the Marshals Service revise its existing guidance on the practice, inventory existing supplies of promotional items and institute management controls over such spending.
Director Stacia Hylton, who took office after being confirmed in December 2010, agreed.