Most of the conferences studied were held or planned during the Bush administration, and the report included a May 2009 memo from then-Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden vowing that the Obama administration would crack down on conferences and other “extravagant spending, especially during these challenging financial times.’’
The event that raised the most eyebrows — the 2009 legal training conference in Washington sponsored by Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review — was held three months after the Ogden memo. It featured 250 assorted muffins for $4,200, or $16.80 apiece, and $2,880 for 300 cookies and brownies, along with various pastries and snacks.
An audit of the Department of Justice by the Inspector General says that taxpayer money was wasted on overpriced food and drinks. At one conference, the DOJ spent $4200 on 250 muffins--that's about $16 a muffin. (Sept. 21)
"This boggles my mind. Why are we paying for special expenses for federal employees? State employees such as myself never get a free lunch, and we make half as much in salary."
That prompted Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) to write a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday, pointing out that the muffins were served “during your tenure as Attorney General.’’
“It is clear that while American taxpayers were tightening their belts and making difficult financial decisions, the department was splurging on wasteful snacks,’’ the letter said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a former federal prosecutor, called the expenditures revealed in the report “outrageous” and said Justice officials “spend too much time attending conferences.’’
The report criticized the Justice Department for spending about $600,000 in grant funds for “event planning services” by outside firms at five of the conferences. Schnedar, the acting inspector general, also found that the department spent nearly $3,500 in “unallowable and unnecessary” costs to fly a consultant three times between Alaska and California to help plan a 2008 conference on reducing violence on Indian lands
Justice officials defended that expenditure. “The consultant was the only event planner who had the expertise and knowledge” in areas such as “substantive knowledge of Native American traditions and cultures,’’ Laurie O. Robinson, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, wrote in response to the report.
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Staff writer Eric Yoder contributed to this report.