The U.S. Marshal Service (USMS) wasted nearly $800,000 on silk scarves, Christmas ornaments, and other "swag," according to an inspector general report released Tuesday.
The report analyzed spending on promotional items by the Investigative Operations Division (IOD), which conducts fugitive investigations for the Marshal Service.
"We found that the IOD spent at least $793,118 on promotional items during fiscal years 2005 to 2010 and that these expenditures were excessive and, in some instances, in contravention of Department Policies and Government Accountability Office (GAO) decisions and guidance," the report said.
"Furthermore, IOD’s spending on promotional items increased by 975 percent during the 6-year period examined by the OIG and vastly outpaced the growth of the USMS’s appropriation during the same period," the IG said.
"As an illustration of some of the IOD’s spending we found that in six years the IOD branches spent $155,081 on USMS challenge coins, $11,338 on neckties and silk scarves bearing the USMS seal, $13,605 on USMS-themed Christmas ornaments, $16,084 on USMS-themed blankets and throws, and $36,596 on USMS lapel pins."
Other spending included $8,789.60 on cufflinks, $6,266.04 on teddy bears, and $21,543.86 on key chains.
"Lamb wool blankets" costing $149 each, and $125 crystal statues were also given as retirement gifts.
The IG said that the silk neckties and scarves were "particularly popular" and were used to "promote goodwill" overseas.
"Witnesses from the International Investigations Branch told us that the silk ties and scarves were given to their foreign counterparts as a gesture of goodwill, as an expression of thanks, and in some instances, as farewell gifts to foreign officials whose embassy tours had ended," the report said.
The inspector general based its investigation on an anonymous letter received by the agency in 2010 that alleged that the Marshals were spending "excess end of year funding on ‘swag.’"
The letter pointed to about 500 silk ties with the USMS logo, 200 hand embroidered pillows, and expensive retirement gifts for senior managers.
The Marshal Service only spent $29,138.62 on promotional items in 2005. By 2010, spending had increased to $313,193.46, or $1,068.98 per its 293 employees.
"We found that the growth in spending on promotional items was the result of the absence of internal controls and accountability within the USMS, and the failure of USMS personnel who were given purchasing responsibilities to exercise good judgment," the report said.
USMS Director Stacia Hylton said she takes the matter "very seriously" and has instituted reforms since she was appointed in 2011.
"From 2011 forward we have endeavored to ensure the previous behavior from 2005 through 2010 did not continue," she said in a response to the report. "This effort is proven in the review of our financial records which show that in FY 2011 IOD spent less than $600 on ‘promotional and ceremonial’ items and less than $221 in FY 2012."