An audit at the Justice Department unveiled more than $121 million in wasteful spending on conferences in 2008 and 2009, including $4,200 muffin purchases and $8.24 cups of coffee.
Recently implemented rules require the Department to investigate incidences of wasteful spending at taxpayer expense. A report released on Tuesday outlines some of the department’s most wasteful expenditures.
The report concludes that the government body made no “reasonable” attempt to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars:
This is because the OJP(Office of Justice Programs) Financial Guide circularly defines “reasonable” prices as the prices that would have been incurred under the circumstances at the time the cost was incurred by a prudent person. As shown by the high cost of individual meals and refreshments incurred by the OJP and OVW (Office on Violence Against Women) events reviewed – $47 and $76 lunches and $8 cups of coffee – we do not believe that event planners took the steps necessary to minimize meal and refreshment costs.
The report also said that while the Justice Department spent more than $600,000 to pay event planners, no real evidence existed that it conducted cost benefit analysis when picking meeting places for conferences.
The statement says:
Another justification offered for food and beverages at conferences is that hotels sometimes agree to waive meeting space rental fees provided that DOJ purchase a minimum amount of food and beverages for the event. For the reviewed conferences, this minimum amount ranged from between $25,000 and $50,000; however, conference planners spent much more on food and beverages than what would have been required for free space…Although free meeting space may provide an opportunity to save money, no component or event planner reviewed assessed whether the cost of meals and refreshments was less than the cost that meeting space would have been had it not been provided by the hotels for free. Without a cost-benefit analysis that compares the value of free meeting space to the cost of meals and refreshments, we could not determine whether conference costs were reduced by a component or event planner ordering a set amount of food and beverages and receiving meeting space at no cost.
As public outrage begins following the release, many politicians have also voiced concerns over massive bureaucratic spending. According to CNN, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — a longtime advocate of reducing the reach of bureaucratic agencies — released a statement following the report denouncing the agency’s extreme waste.
“Sixteen-dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change. The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so,” he said.