A recent report by a Washington-based transparency advocacy group charged federal agencies under the Obama administration with spending $1.1 million on souvenirs and promotional items, including gifts such as trophies, yo-yos, and water bottles. Based on a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, Cause of Action, a nonprofit watchdog group, uncovered flagrant cases of taxpayer abuse, including $700,000 spent by the Homeland Security department on “awards” in fiscal 2010 alone.
The six-month investigation probed 32 U.S. federal offices and uncovered spending patterns and decisions by a number of agencies that potentially breach President Obama’s Executive Order 13589, which requires government offices to “limit the purchase of promotional items (e.g., plaques, clothing, and commemorative items), in particular where they are not cost-effective.”
In a lengthy response to this damning new report, Cause of Action executive director Dan Epstein explained the lack of documentation and transparency on part of these government agencies and the lavish spending that has left taxpayers on the hook for 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 Cause of Action’s allegations, saying that the analysis “inaccurately combined the OIG’s [Office of Inspector General] employee performance award program with an array of questionable, wasteful government agency outlays for commemorative coins and other trinkets.” The OIG further stated that it delivered documents to the watchdog group showing that the $700,000 cited in the report covered year-end performance awards, described as “spot cash awards,” for 700 agency employees.
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