U.S. Marshals may always get their man, but they buy a lot of ‘swag’ along the way

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The U.S. Marshals Service spent close to $800,000 on “swag” from 2005 through 2010, according to a government report released Tuesday.

Defined as promotional materials, including scarves, challenge coins and Christmas ornaments, “swag” must be considered “necessary” to count as a legitimate expense, according to the investigation conducted by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

But senior managers with the service’s Investigative Operations Division spent excessively and in violation of guidelines set by the Government Accountability Office, the report concludes.

The investigation, sparked by an anonymous letter alerting the inspector general to the purchase of items such as pillows and silk neckties bearing the service’s seal, found that spending on such items increased by 975 percent during the six-year period and surpassed the service’s appropriation during the same period.

The spending included $155,081 on challenge coins, $11,338 on neckties and silk scarves, $13,605 on Christmas ornaments, $16,084 on blankets and throws, and $36,596 on lapel pins. In all, the division’s spending on swag totaled $793,118.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte called the IG’s findings “completely unacceptable.”

“Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on USMS-themed Christmas ornaments, blankets, ties and other non-essential items is poor stewardship of our citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars,” the Virginia Republican said in a statement.

The inspector general said that lack of internal controls and accountability and a failure in judgment on the part of the Marshals Service was to blame.

The report also points to informal awards to service employees detailed to “Regional Fugitive Task Forces” by their local agencies, gifts distributed by service managers to build morale, and retirement and ceremonial gifts. Distributing promotional items such as Christmas ornaments to build morale was an unnecessary expense, the report says.

Lesser transgressions included the purchase of $149 lamb’s wool blankets and custom boxes with the Marshals Service seal and $125 crystal statues.

Marshals Service officials said they agreed with the report’s findings and will be taking steps to reform the program.

The violations cited by the inspector general violate a Jan. 21, 2011, directive from the attorney general to reduce agency expenditures to only “mission-essential” programs, projects and activities. That June, Chief Financial Officer Albert Hemphill stated that the service was developing a promotional items policy and that all such expenditures “were suspended pending issuance of a formal policy.”

The Justice Department and the Marshals Service then issued explicit policies and guidelines, according to the report.

Those policies and guidelines did not take root, however, the IG found. Now, the inspector general is recommending that the service develop new policies that contain a narrower definition of allowable expenditures. The inspector general also is recommending that the service undertake a “full inventory of promotional items currently on hand.”

Marshals Service officials said in a letter to the inspector general that officials have taken aggressive steps to restrict nonessential spending, and that, following an agencywide moratorium in June 2011, reduced the Investigative Operations Division’s spending on promotional items to less than $600 in fiscal 2011 and less than $221 in fiscal 2012.

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