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‘Extravagant’ Spending, $16 Muffins Found at U.S. Meetings

‘Extravagant’ Spending, $16 Muffins Found at U.S. Meetings
US Attorney General Eric Holder leaves a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington on April 4, 2011. Photographer: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Justice Department agencies spent too much for food at conferences, in one case serving $16 muffins and in another dishing out beef Wellington appetizers that cost $7.32 per serving, an audit found.

“Some conferences featured costly meals, refreshments, and themed breaks that we believe were indicative of wasteful or extravagant spending,” the Justice Department’s inspector general wrote in a report released today.

The inspector general reviewed a sample of 10 Justice Department conferences held between October 2007 and September 2009 at a cost of $4.4 million, a period that included the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama. The Justice Department spent $73.3 million on conferences in fiscal 2009, compared with $47.8 million a year earlier, according to the report.

The muffins were served at an August 2009 conference of the Executive Office for Immigration Review and the beef Wellington was offered at a February 2008 meeting hosted by the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. A March 2009 conference of the Office on Violence Against Women served Cracker Jack, popcorn and candy bars at a single break, costing $32 per person, according to the report.

$5 Swedish Meatball

The report is a follow-up to one from 2007 that found the Justice Department had few controls to limit the costs of conference planning, food and beverages. That audit cited a reception that included Swedish meatballs costing $5 apiece.

In April 2008 the Justice Department issued policies and procedures designed to control conference spending.

The new report found that agencies were able to “circumvent meal and refreshment cost limits” when conferences were planned under cooperative agreements, a type of funding awarded by a Justice Department agency.

Justice Department agencies “did not adequately attempt to minimize conference costs as required by federal and DOJ guidelines,” the report said.

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said, “We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur.”

Department agencies “have taken steps since 2009 and prior to the OIG report to ensure that these problems do not occur again,” Talamona said.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that the Justice Department “appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so.”

The spending described in the report provides a “blueprint for the first cuts” that the congressional supercommittee should make, Grassley said. The panel was created in August as part of the agreement to raise the national debt limit and faces a Nov. 23 deadline to come up with recommendations for $1.5 trillion in budget savings.

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