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Report: U.S. Marshals Service spent excessively on ‘swag’

Crystal statues worth $125 apiece and custom boxes with lamb-wool blankets at a cost of $149 per set. Those are among the examples of excessive spending on promotional items by the U.S. Marshals Service in recent years, according to a watchdog analysis.

(Courtesy U.S. Marshals Service). (Courtesy U.S. Marshals Service).

Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz released a report on Tuesday revealing that one of the agency’s divisions increased its expenditures on so-called “swag” by nearly tenfold — or about 300 percent per employee — from 2005 through 2010.

All told, the investigative-operations unit spent nearly $800,000 on promotional items during that period, including $37,000 on lapel pins, $57,000 on clothing and $155,000 on “challenge coins,” which many federal agencies use to recognize good work or promote a sense of team, the report said.

Federal auditors determined that the expenses were “excessive and, in some instances, in contravention of department policies and Government Accountability Office decisions and guidance.”

The inspector general’s office said the growth in swag spending was “the result of the absence of internal controls, accountability and good judgment.”

Witnesses told investigators that they often use swag for awards or to reciprocate gift-giving with officials from other law-enforcement agencies, according to the report.

In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a directive to the Justice Department requiring all divisions to limit spending to only “mission-essential programs, project and activities.” The Marshals Service has since reduced its swag expenditures and implemented new policies relating to the matter, according to the report.

The inspector general’s office determined that the new policies will “encourage restraint and enhance accountability,” but it said that more needs to be done.

The report said the Marshals Service should conduct a full inventory of its promotional items, revise its policies to be more in line with Justice Department guidelines and enhance its internal controls.

The Marshals Service concurred with all three recommendations in a response to the inspector general’s office.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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