Government watchdog report finds $1.1 million in wasteful spending on yo-yos, pens

Each year, Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases an annual report called “Waste Book,” which highlights the various ways in which the federal government wastes money on many questionable items.  Last year’s report included $10 million for a remake of “Sesame Street” in Pakistan, $48,700 for a chocolate festival in Hawaii and $113,227 for a video game preservation center.

This time, a Washington-based watchdog organization that advocates for government accountability, published a different report that uncovers more than $1 million in wasteful spending by nine federal departments on souvenirs during the administration of President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, the group released “Coin for Coins: Cause of Action Finds Federal Agencies in Violation of Executive Order on Spending,” a six-month investigation into the careless spending of taxpayer dollars by government officials.

The report found that these nine agencies were in direct violation of the president’s Nov. 2011 Executive Order on Promoting Efficient Spending (EO 13589).  In total, the investigation found that the departments spent $1,123,118 on different souvenirs and awards.

Here are just some examples of how the money was spent:

–          $38,870 on Apple iPods, Nikon Coolpix cameras and GPS systems (Department of Agriculture)

–          $1,700 worth of calendar magnets and $358 worth of T-shirts (Department of Agriculture)

–          $1,600 for plaques and engraving (Department of Energy)

–          $12,000 toward commemorative items for one conference (Department of Homeland Security)

–          $2,448 was spent on lapel pins (Department of Justice)

“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,” said Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action, in a press release.

“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.”

Department of Veteran Affairs

This comes as another report by the Office of the Inspector General discovered that head officials at the Department of Veteran Affairs spent money instead of controlling costs for two employee-training conferences, which was totaled at $6.1 million. Most of the funds came from accounts that would pay for veterans’ health care.

Prior to the publishing of the report, John Sepulveda, the VA’s top human resources executive, submitted his resignation, who spent the department’s entire $300 million budget on an account for training.

Republican Florida Congressman and House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller condemned the wasteful spending and called for the removal of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John Gingrich.

“I find it infuriating that VA would have the nerve to incentivize this type of waste when our veterans are continually struggling to receive care,” said Miller.  “Apparently they are quick to reward irresponsible behavior.

Democratic California Congressman Bob Filner also repeated calls for reforms in the federal department in a statement.

Government Waste Campaign

In Jun. 2011, the White House launched a campaign to cut government waste.  In a video featuring President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, it was promised that government officials would track and eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money in each agency and department in the federal government.

“Targeting waste and making government more efficient have been a priority for my administration since day one.  But as we work to tackle the budget deficit, we need to step up our game,” said the president in the video.  “No amount of waste is acceptable – not when it’s your money; not at a time when so many families are already cutting back.”

On the same day, the president signed an Executive Order, which included two initiatives: new oversight and accountability board and regular cabinet meetings to report progress to the vice president.

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