Justice Dept. Workers Visit Luxury Resorts

Federal agencies' conferences at resorts cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Oct. 29, 2008— -- Should federal workers learn how to work with Congress while in Washington?

While many think the answer is yes, the Federal Bureau of Prisons seems to disagree. According to a new federal report, the Department of Justice agency sent 15 employees to a Hilton village beach resort in Hawaii for a congressional seminar on how to lobby the government effectively, on the taxpayer's tab, totaling $33,500.

"When you're in Washington, it would seem to me that you could have a seminar here on how to effectively lobby the federal government, rather than shoot them four or five thousand miles away," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who spearheaded the congressional report.

The report, which was released early exclusively to ABC News, identifies thousands of Department of Justice employees who have enjoyed food, drink and fancy resorts on the government's time and the taxpayer's dollar.

According to the report's findings, the Justice Department sponsored a conference on gangs, nowhere near an inner city, but at the exclusive Palm Springs La Quinta resort, famous for its golf courses and "death by chocolate" body massages. The costs totaled more than $250,000.

With the country in economic woes and the government in the midst of managing a $700 billion rescue plan funded by taxpayer dollars to stabilize the economy, Coburn says he found these trips extravagant.

"We are in a time in this country when we can't afford excess, or double billing by workers who double dip," Coburn said.

At a conference in Denver, 40 of nearly 100 Justice Department workers that were checked got reimbursed for meals, even though food was provided at the conference.

Coburn's report claims that, in 2006, a quarter of the Justice Department's workforce went to conferences, which the senator describes as a "pattern of poor management."

"We've found, over the last seven years, $10 billion in pure waste," Coburn said. "We ought to be prudent with taxpayer money."

Coburn also acknowledged that it is Congress' responsibility to keep the federal agency in check.

"How does Congress let the Department of Justice mismanage $10 billion over the last six or seven years?" Coburn asked of his colleagues' and his own negligence on the matter.

The Justice Department calls some of this report old information and told ABC News that conferences serve a legitimate purpose.

"The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that policies and procedures regarding conferences are clear and consistent and that spending is appropriate," they said in a statement to ABC News. "The Department has taken significant measures to ensure we have adequate oversight and control in this area."

Coburn questioned whether it was appropriate for the Justice Department to charge for some of its services. The FBI advises Hollywood executives on movies that depict federal agents, such as "The Kingdom," which made $50 million.

"If they're going to be advisory to the entertainment industry and they're going to use their technical expertise to do that, the entertainment industry, the last time I looked, was making a lot of money," Coburn said. "Maybe they ought to pay for it."

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