Swag: Who has it, what is it?

The executive order placing limits on agencies’ ability to provide mobile devices and other technology to federal employees garnered a lot of media coverage, but most mainstream news outlets put the focus on just one aspect of the order: the use of the term "swag."

For those who don't know, swag refers to small items or gifts like the giveaways at trade shows branded with the company's logo. In the context of the executive order, it applies to items that agencies buy with taxpayer money and then give away.

Related coverage:

VA staffer got $75K education courtesy of taxpayers

Don't jump to conclusions about Obama's order limiting mobile devices

David Coursey

at Forbes looked beyond the term "swag" and focused on the specifics of the order that arguably are most important to federal employees — not just the limits on IT devices but also the shift from printing to posting information online.

But Coursey questioned how much money the provisions will save. "The statement said the president expects the order to result in saving 'billions' of taxpayer dollars but offered no specific details," he wrote.

Elsewhere, the reporting was more playful. The New York Post went for a characteristically cheesy headline: “O vows fall of $wagdad.”

That led to a lead also in keeping with the Post’s general tabloid style: “Grab those free government pens while you still can,” wrote Geoff Earle and Chuck Bennett. “President Obama yesterday ordered all federal agencies to stop passing out swag and souvenirs willy-nilly.”

The Post also noted that White House cuff links are paid for with private funds, so the order doesn’t affect their availability.

At Politico, reporter M.J. Lee contacted more than a dozen agencies to ask what swag they have available and found that most had none at all. Some were not even aware of the executive order until Lee told them about it, according to the article.

“The Peace Corps was one of the few organizations that had a whiff of swag,” Lee wrote. “Stephen Chapman, the public affairs specialist for the mid-Atlantic regional recruiting office, said they give out pens, highlighters and key chains at recruiting events, including career fairs on school campuses.”

"Obama Foodorama" — a blog about White House food initiatives — raised the question of cakes.

Specifically, Eddie Gehman Kohan wrote about a white cake decorated with the Agriculture Department’s logo and a large “150 years.”

“Swag is defined as ‘non-essential items used for promotional purposes, such as clothing, mugs and non-work-related gadgets,’" Kohan wrote. "In theory, cakes like the one above may now be off limits. It was created for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's recent visit to Springfield, Ill., to ‘soft launch’ the yearlong 2012 celebration of USDA's 150th anniversary. ... The cake's decoration is USDA's new commemorative logo, which will be on plenty of swag. Which raises the question: Is cake a swaggy ‘non-work-related gadget’?"

The Wall Street Journal highlighted some exceptions to the rule. “Federal Bureau of Investigation and Federal Emergency Management Agency jackets will stay because they are work-related garments,” Carol Lee and Jared Favole wrote. “Performance and recruitment tools for the military also won't be cut, including commemorative military coins that commanders and other top officials hand out.”

On the Washington Post's "In the Loop" blog, Emily Heil emphasized transportation. “President Obama is poised to put the kibosh on spending by agencies on travel, equipment and technology, which not only means we’ll likely see more officials hoofing it across town instead of cabbing, but that there won’t be any agency merch to spread around,” she wrote.

Her colleague Ed O’Keefe, in his "Federal Eye" blog, reported that after a recent Chief Human Capital Officers Council meeting, a reporter observed at least four government-owned vehicles idling outside the meeting location, waiting to drive attendees back to their offices. One official who got into a car was Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry, whose office was just two blocks away.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group