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September 21st, 2011
How to Spend Money Like It Ain't Yours

The U.S. Justice Department's internal auditor has released a report criticizing the department for lavish spending on conferences at the end of the Bush administration and early in the Obama administration, the New York Times reports.

The astonishing prices the Justice Department paid for meals and refreshments included $5.57 for each can of soda guzzled at a conference on the “Amber Alert” system at the Grand Hyatt in Denver in November 2007 and $16 per muffin at a training program for immigration lawyers at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C., in August 2009.

At some of the 10 conferences between Oct. 2007 and Sept. 2009 that the agency’s Inspector General’s office examined, the Justice Department spent $1 per ounce for coffee, or $8.24 a cup.

The report also questioned why the Justice Department spent about $600,000 for “event planning services” by outside firms at five conferences.

In total, the Department of Justice hosted or participated in 1,832 conferences in 2008 and 2009, at a cost of $121 million, the report said, according to the Washington Post.

According to the New York Times:

The department said that it had brought such spending under better control in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, which were outside the scope of the audit.

Moreover, the department told auditors that some food costs were exaggerated because of the way deals with the hotels were often structured: the hotels provided “free” meeting space in exchange for an agreement to use their pricey food and beverage services.

Planners often did no cost-benefit analysis to determine whether it would have been thriftier to pay for the meeting space directly and obtain cheaper catering, the report said. But it noted that the conferences often ended up spending tens of thousands more on food and beverage than the minimum necessary to secure the “free” meeting rooms.

This isn’t the first time auditors have taken the Justice Department to task for extravagant spending. In 2007, the inspector general criticized the department for excessive spending on conferences, and department managers issued guidelines to limit such costs, the New York Times reports. The new report found those guidelines were often exceeded.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight of the Justice Department, suggested that the report could give the Congressional deficit reduction "super committee" some ideas for slashing spending, Reuters reports.

"Sixteen dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change," Grassley said in a statement. "People are outraged, and rightly so."




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