Neckties, silk scarves, Christmas ornaments and other “swag” accounted for at least $790,000 inappropriately spent by a division of the U.S. Marshals Service from 2005 to 2010, according to a report released by the Justice Department's internal watchdog Tuesday.
The marshals' Investigative Operations Division increased its spending on promotional items by nearly tenfold over a six-year period. The IOD spent on items such as Christmas ornaments, challenge coins and blankets, all carrying a Marshals Service theme, outspending its swag budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
An anonymous letter sent in October 2010 that said senior managers were spending “excess end-of-year funding on ‘swag’” prompted the IG’s investigation.
The financial program manager for one division ordered personalized boxes for silk ties “because she thought it was ‘awesome,’” according to the report. The managers were “mortified” upon their arrival, however, and never used them.
The purchase of the boxes and the ties was “poor financial management … poor taste and poor judgment,” IOD's financial program manager told the IG.
Another IOD official told the IG that “she did not know why she signed the request for the ornaments, but that doing so was ‘stupid’ and the purchase was ‘insane.’” Another said they were “cute.”
The official who served as the associate director for operations for the investigative division during two of the years examined said he never authorized the purchase of the Christmas ornaments, though he was aware of their use as gifts.
The purchases weren't tracked, and many of the items were kept concealed, witnesses told the IG.
“When promotional items were received, they were stored in desk drawers, locked closets, and distributed to IOD employees on an as-needed basis,” the report said.
Congress allowed only a cumulative $84,000 of the Marshals Service budget to be used for promotional items and rewards from 2005 to 2010. The investigative division, however, spent at least $793,118.
A former chief of the division’s policy and programs division stated that no policy limited the amount of money that could be spent on such purchases.
“The growth in spending on promotional items was the result of the absence of internal controls and accountability within the USMS,” the report by the inspector general said.
In 2008, the purchase of ties and scarves alone would have exceeded the agency’s annual budget for promotions by more than $1,000.
In June 2011, all purchases of promotional items were suspended. In October of that year, new policies were implemented to prevent future oversight.