$16 Muffins? Actually, No, Officials Say

The Justice Department didn't pay $16 a muffin during a 2009 conference, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman and Hilton Hotels. However, a Justice Department inspector general spokesman said it stood by its report citing the $16 muffins. Shown above is an undated photo of muffins.

Remember those $16 government muffins that outraged critics of Washington spending? Turns out there’s no such thing.

After Hilton Hotels denied reports that it charged $16 per muffin to the Department of Justice at a 2009 conference, the Department of Justice said the $16 fee included much more than muffins.

“Under a complete accounting of the services provided for the Executive Office for Immigration Review conference, it is clear that the muffins did not cost $16,” DOJ spokeswoman Gina Talamona said in a written statement. ”The abbreviated banquet checks did not reflect all of the food and services provided.  The package consisted of food, beverages, staff services and function space, including a 450-seat ballroom and more than a dozen workshop and breakout rooms each of the five days of the conference.”

The Justice position on the $16 paying for multiple items, not just muffins, squared with a Hilton spokesman’s claim to ABC News.

“Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided,” a Hilton statement said, “as is the case with recent media reports of breakfast items approved for some government meetings.  In Washington, the contracted breakfast included fresh fruit, coffee, juice, and muffins, plus tax and gratuity, for an inclusive price of $16 per person.”

Without the tax and tip, a spokesman noted, the cost of the continental breakfast was $14 per person.

The melee over the muffins went viral this week, with presidential candidates, politicians and the public citing the cost of muffins a new symbol of government waste.

The original report on the muffin costs came from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, which reviewed spending for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Legal Conference in August, 2009.

The IG reports said “the EOIR spent nearly $40,000 on refreshments at the conference. The service and gratuity charges applied to each bill equaled 20 percent of the total price of refreshments. Applying the 534-attendee figure to the total cost of refreshments over the 5 days of the event, EOIR spent an average of $14.74 per person per day on refreshments.”

Exhibit 13 of the inspector general’s report suggested that the investigators based their muffin findings on this line item:

Assorted Muffins






That’s 250 muffins at $14 each — $16.80 with tax and tip, for a total of $4,200. 

Today, a spokesman for the Justice Department inspector general said, “We stand by our report.”

But Hilton suggested the inspector general did not dig deeply enough.  If the IG had followed up and asked the hotel for details, it would have found out that the $4,200 covered a full continental breakfast for each person, at a price that was competitive for most full-service hotels.

But the gnashing of teeth within the federal government had already started. Vice President Joe Biden criticized the cost of muffins, and the White House budget office responded with a memo directing federal agencies to review policies associated with conference expenses.