Justice Department Audit Reveals Workers Served Pricey Meatballs

An audit has found that the Justice Department spent more than $45 million last year on conferences set up for Justice Department divisions — including one event where caterers provided government employees with meatball appetizers costing about $5 each.

In a report obtained today by ABC News, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General examined 10 conferences, including the 2006 COPS National Conference held at the Washington Hilton, which cost taxpayers $823,105.

According to the report, 110 Department of Justice employees attended the event, which was held for 1,100 law enforcement officials, educators and local government officials.

The $4.77 Meatballs

One third of the conference's budget was spent on food and beverages. A further breakdown by the inspector general audit showed some pricey items at a $60,000 networking reception.

"The reception also served conference attendees several hundred Swedish meatballs and miniature pastries. With applicable service charges, each meatball cost nearly $5 and each piece of pastry cost almost $6," according to the 128-page audit. The report says the meatballs cost exactly $4.77 per unit.

The report cites meal costs at the 2005 "Community Capacity Development Office" conference at the Westin hotel in Los Angeles, showing that the government paid $37.67 per person for deli sandwich lunches, with bags of chips priced at $3.25, yogurt at $4.87, cans of soda $4.55 and bottles of water at $4.87 each. The average cost for the conference food came in at $256 per person per day.

According to the report, six of the 10 conferences were sponsored by the department's Office of Justice Programs division. It includes Justice divisions such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention — all research and share federal law enforcement information with state and local law enforcement agencies.

$46 Million Spent on Conferences in 2006

Three of the conferences reviewed were sponsored by the FBI and one was funded by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). In 2006, a total of $45.9 million was spent on the conferences, including costs for general support, programming and travel.

Although some of the costs may seem a bit pricey, the inspector general said the conferences were justified.

"Our review of conference justifications concluded that appropriate reasons and approvals for these 10 events were developed by their sponsoring components," the report stated.

The inspector general's report made 14 recommendations to cut conference expenditures in the future. These include considering lower-cost venues, implementing food and beverage policies, and conducting cost comparisons.

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