Dec. 10 2012 12:00 AM

It took a full year for the FBI to release its outreach program expenditures

Jason Wells (center) of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce poses with his swag. He's flanked by Special Agent Eric Birnbaum (left) and Citizens Academy Alumni Association President Patrick Hunter (right)
Source: San Diego FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has spent $315,000 on swag for its "Citizens Academy" since 2008, with each attendee walking away with $40 worth of gear.

That information comes courtesy of a year-old Freedom of Information Act request the FBI finally got around to fulfilling last week. ---

In 2011, CityBeat began researching the San Diego field office's FBI Citizens Academy, a national program designed to forge personal connections between special agents and "civic, business and religious leaders."

Enrollees are invited to six or seven classes, where FBI agents explain what happens behind the scenes in high-profile cases, then provide hands-on instruction in investigative techniques, such as blood-spatter forensics and interrogation. Typically, and as is the case with San Diego's program, the academy concludes with graduation ceremony and demonstration on a firing range. Attendees and their guests are allowed to test-fire weapons with live ammunition, from antique Tommy guns to modern assault rifles.

2012 firing range demonstration
Publicly, the FBI's Community Relations Unit chief has said that the program reaches out to diverse groups, particularly marginalized ethnic communities, to build trust. However, in San Diego, we discovered that invitations to the FBI Citizens Academy went overwhelmingly to corporate executives and defense contractors. Many slots didn't go to the private citizens at all, but were awarded to Department of Defense personnel-in other words, other federal employees. As we reported in the January cover story, religious groups were largely under-represented.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders were over-represented. The head of the California Republican Party, Ron Nehring, had been invited. The next year, his protégé, San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric, was invited; he, in turn, brought in his underling, county GOP secretary and private investigator Derrick Roach.

The Republican involvement was especially suspect considering that, at the same time Krvaric was benefiting from FBI training in investigative techniques, he and Roach were using field surveillance to discredit Democratic members of the city's Redistricting Commission.

We emailed the FBI to ask about Krvaric. The FBI responded that it would not comment on matters related to private citizens (even though Krvaric was tweeting up a storm about how cool the program was). Somehow, our inquiry made it back to Krvaric, who, within hours, contacted us demanding to know why we were asking the FBI about him.

Our response: Accountability. We wanted to examine whether the FBI Citizens Academy was a worthwhile program considering the country's budget deficit.

After more than a year, the FBI finally provided us with budget materials last week outlining the cost of the program. We had hoped to receive a budget that included personnel hours, the forensic supplies and ammunition used in the demonstrations and any souvenirs. The only numbers the FBI released were for the swag.

From 2008 to 2011, the FBI spent a total of $315,308 on branded Citizens Academy gear for attendees.

The FBI allocated roughly $1,200 annually for each of its 56 field office to cover the cost of "padfolios, pens, lapel pins, certificate holders, gym bags and hats." Each field office was expected to receive about 50 of each item. (San Diego's field office usually had fewer attendees.)

FBI Citizens Academy alumni collected goodies worth a total $40.36 each: a dufflebag ($15.67), a twill cap ($4.98), a "deluxe" certificate holder ($9.28), a zipper padfolio made of DuraHyde ($6.67) and a retractable ballpoint pen ($3.77).

President Barack Obama banned government swag by executive order in November 2011, but photos from the 2012 graduation show attendees still received padfolios. 

Jason Wells (center) of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce poses with his swag. He's flanked by Special Agent Eric Birnbaum (left) and Citizens Academy Alumni Association President Patrick Hunter (right)
Source: San Diego FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association


Birnbaum, Capt. Gary Mayes (Naval Base Coronado), and Hunter
2012 Citizens' Academy Graduates

Some of the documents provided in response to our FOIA request allege mismanagement regarding the funds. A 2008 memo mentions that "several of the field divisions were not managing their COP [Community Outreach Programs] budget properly." A 2009 memo describes an "unauthorized commitment" made by the Community Relations Unit head office. The unit had placed an order for the materials, then funneled the funding through the individual 56 field offices, circumventing the official procurement process.

We'd like to have more information on that. Maybe the FBI will give it up sometime in 2014.


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