In these tough economic times when austerity and budget cuts are daily discussions in Washington, D.C., and on Main Street, the Justice Department didn’t seem to get the memo on spending for agency-sponsored conferences, including buying $16 muffins and $10 cookies, according to a new Justice Department Inspector General audit released Tuesday.
The cost may be tough to swallow considering an Inspector General audit from 2007 found that a DOJ-sponsored conference spent almost $5 per Swedish meatball.
The review found that DOJ employees attended or participated in 1,832 conferences with a total cost of $121 million in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The Inspector General analyzed 10 specific conferences which cost $4.4 million.
The report revealed, “one conference served $16 muffins while another served Beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres that cost $7.32 per serving. Coffee and tea at the events cost between $0.62 and $1.03 an ounce. At the $1.03 per-ounce price, an 8-ounce cup of coffee would have cost $8.24.
“For event planning services, DOJ spent $600,000 (14 percent of costs) to hire training and technical assistance providers as external event planners for 5 of the 10 conferences reviewed. This was done without demonstrating that these firms offered the most cost effective logistical event planning services. Further, these event planners did not accurately track and report conference expenditures,” the audit noted.
The report highlights two examples where the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) spent over $32,000 in planning meetings in Palm Springs, Calif., for two conferences.
In another instance at an Office of Violence Against Women conference, “OVW conference attendees received Cracker Jacks, popcorn, and candy bars at a single break that cost $32 per person.”
The $16 muffins were served at a conference hosted by the Executive Office for Immigration and Review (EOIR). “The EOIR spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies. By itemizing these costs, we determined that, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each,” the audit noted.
Although the nearly $5 meatball was revealed in the 2007 audit, and new guidelines were implemented in 2008, the Inspector General concluded, “DOJ components hosting conferences in FY 2008 and FY 2009 did not adequately attempt to minimize conference costs as required by federal and DOJ guidelines.”
The Inspector General’s report made 10 recommendations to cut conference expenditures. These include reviewing hotel service charges, logistical and salaries for conference workers, and conducting cost comparisons.