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How to spend $2 million on pillows, teddy bears and holiday ornaments

U.S. marshalls guard the area outside of the federal U.S. District Court in Washington on June 28 after security was heightened in anticipation of a possible court appearance by captured Libyan militant Ahmed Abu Khattala later in the day. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

(This post has been updated.)

Back in early 2011, the Justice Department directed agencies to scale back its spending to “mission-essential programs, projects and activities.”

And it looks like with good reason.

The U.S. Marshals Service’s national and district offices spent $2 million over four years on so-called “swag” that included pillows, teddy bears, silk scarves and holiday ornaments, according to a new MuckRock report.

In November 2013, colleague Josh Hicks wrote about an inspector general report detailing purchases of promotional items by the Investigative Operations Division (IOD) of the United States Marshals Service (USMS). The watchdog auditors found that the unit had spent nearly $800,000 from fiscal 2005 through 2010 on items with the USMS insignia. The swag was used to boost morale, reward good work, promote the agency’s brand, for recruitment and as gifts.

But among the items it found “excessive” was a lamb-wool blanket worth $149 and silk scarves for $40.55 apiece. The latter, according to the report, were often “a gesture of goodwill” gift to foreign counterparts. (Because nothing says welcome to America like a USMS decorative neck-wrap.)

MuckRock, the organization that helps with filing Freedom of Information Act requests, was not satisfied with how much detail the IG provided, so it requested through a FOIA all the marshals’ swag purchases. The federal agency provided 173 pages showing the spending on promotional items from fiscal 2009 through 2012 by “the IOD, other departments in the USMS’ national office, and 90 out of 94 district offices across the U.S. and its territories,” MuckRock reported Tuesday.

Most egregious to MuckRock? Perhaps the thousands spent on kids’ toys like yo-yos and stuffed animals.

When the initial IG report came out nine months ago, USMS said it had dramatically decreased spending on promotional items.

A USMS spokeswoman reiterated to the Loop in an e-mail that its “taken aggressive steps to restrict non-essential spending and strengthen internal controls over promotional spending.” Since an agency-wide moratorium was put in place in June 2011, the IOD “spent less than $600 on promotional and ceremonial items in fiscal 2011, less than $221 in fiscal 2012,” and zlitch in fiscal 2013.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.



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