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Tchotchke spending spree: Report blasts government for big buys on promotional items

A watchdog group blasted the federal government in a report Tuesday for spending taxpayer money on tchotchkes -- from yo-yos and pens to trophies -- despite President Obama's order last November to "limit the purchase of promotional items."

Cause of Action, touting a six-month investigation, said it had found "a pattern of wasteful spending across nine specific federal agency offices."

The waste detailed by the group totaled $1.1 million, and the group found a handful of expenses it deemed "most egregious":

-- $38,870 for Nook readers, iPods, digital cameras and GPS devices for staff in a Agriculture Department office

-- $12,000 for commemorative items at a Justice Department COPS conference

-- $86,000 on commemorative items for the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service

But the bulk of the so-called waste cited by the report appears to come from a 2010 awards program in the Homeland Security Department's inspector general's office. That office spent nearly $700,000 on the awards, though the expense predated Obama's executive order advising against promotional items.

Charles Edwards, Homeland Security's acting inspector general, said that program entails employee bonuses and performance incentives, not promotional items. His office has more than 700 employees, who are eligible for various monetary awards if they excel at their jobs or exceed expectations.

"We have been pretty careful on how much money we spend," Edwards told FoxNews.com.

Cause of Action later stood by its report, claiming that while the money may have represented cash awards, the tally is what was given to the group in response to its inquiry on promotional items. 

Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein warned that wasteful spending by the federal government remains a problem.

"Our investigation shows that a federal government culture of waste, fraud and mismanagement remains an unchecked liability throughout federal agencies," Epstein said. "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 Defense Department, in particular, had no way of reporting its promotional spending for the report, Epstein said.

"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," Epstein said.

The report also noted the recent scandals involving high-priced conferences held by different departments. The General Services Administration, the government's property manger, faced criticism earlier this year for a 2010 Las Vegas-area conference that cost more than $800,000. A recent investigation also detailed the more than $5 million spent at a pair of Veterans Affairs conferences.