How State Agencies Spent Millions on Employee Trinkets

Texas agencies have spent at least $8.8 million in employee incentives since 2008.

By Becky Fogel & Hady MawajdehMarch 7, 2016 12:26 pm

A new investigation reveals that state agencies have spent millions of dollars on trinkets like coffee mugs, mason jars and tote bags since 2008.

In 2011, California Gov. Jerry Brown banned the use of taxpayer dollars on knick-knacks. But in Texas, KHOU investigative reporter Jeremy Rogalski uncovered how much state agencies have spent on giveaways and small gifts.

“At least $8.8 million worth, since 2008,” Rogalski says. “I say ‘at least’ because some of those expenditures were also buried with other expenses and monthly credit card reports.”

State agencies classify the expenditures as “awards” that help to motivate employees. But Rogalski says that this may not be the best strategy. Agencies classify and track the purchased items and Rogalski says they are allowed to spend up to $100 on state employees. But Rogalski says that money adds up. Americans for Prosperity, the government watchdog group Rogalski interviewed for the story, said the purpose may not match the price.

“This isn’t about not recognizing employees for their good work,” Rogalski says. “This is about how you do it.”

The state employees’ union advocated for raises, rather than awards, for deserving employees, he said. Rogalski says juggling balls for state Health and Human Services employees – ostensibly for “training” – was one of the more egregious purchases he saw.

“It just seemed to cross the line,” he says.

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.