Feds Spent Millions On Souvenirs And Promo Items

According to a recent report put out by a Washington-based transparency advocacy group, the Obama administration spent $1.1 million on souvenirs and promotional items in 2012. But that wasn’t all.

What kind of souvenirs and promotional items are we talking about that would have used up over a millions bucks? Gifts such as trophies, yo-yos and water bottles of course.

In 2010, nearly $700,000 was spent by the Department of Homeland Security on “awards.”

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A six month investigation ensued and uncovered spending patterns and decisions that seem to be a potential breach of Obama’s Executive Order 13589, which required government offices to “limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing, and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.”

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In responding to the new report, Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein explained the lack of documentation and transparency on the part of the federal agencies that stuck the taxpayers with a tab of millions of dollars.

Our investigation shows that a federal government culture of waste, fraud and mismanagement remains an unchecked liability throughout federal agencies. A cavalier attitude toward the efficient use of tax dollars permeates the executive branch. 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. Just in the past year we’ve seen reports of the Government Services Administration and Veterans Affairs conference spending scandals, Secretary Sebelius’s Hatch Act violations, and conflict of interest violations by NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon. It is clear that those in the current Administration with the responsibility to steward taxpayer dollars, the President included, are not taking their jobs, nor a commitment to ethics and transparency, seriously.

The Inspector General responded to Epstein’s claims. Charles K. Edwards said that the 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.”

Govexec reports,

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.”

However, Cause of Action was not about to back down from its claims that the alleged “awards” were indicative of a culture of wast and excessive spending. They pointed out some of the most flagrant and lavish spending as follows:

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.

Brian Koenig also describes several wasteful spending examples of the Obama administration:

Cause of Action’s shocking narrative has alighted in the wake of numerous reports that document a culture of waste stemming from a number of federal agencies. The General Services Administration (GSA), for example, has been charged with multiple instances of wasteful spending, including an $800,000 Las Vegas training conference that included $130,000 in travel expenses, $146,000 on catered food and drinks, and a $2,000 party in a top official’s hotel suite.

Another conference orchestrated by the scandal-ridden agency cost a staggering $270,000. The one-day event included many of the “award” items chronicled in Cause of Action’s report, including $7,810 for 68 shadowbox picture frames, $20,578 for 4,000 drumsticks, and $30,000 for “time temperature picture frames.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also came under heavy congressional scrutiny after doling out more than $700,000 on two employee conferences last year. A 150-page report published by the VA Office of the Inspector General asserted that the luxurious events, which took place in Orlando, Florida, were poorly planned and entailed hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending.

I realize that this is a mere drop in the bucket in the scheme of things. However, this is pure wasteful spending. It is unnecessary to operate the federal government in any capacity and should be stopped immediately and taxpayers reimbursed.

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