Even Starbucks doesn’t charge $8.24 for a cup of coffee. But that’s precisely how much the Department of Justice overpaid for the beverage it served at one of its conferences, according to a review released Tuesday by the department’s Inspector General.
And that’s not the only food or beverage item for which the department overpaid. The review also revealed that the DOJ spent $16 on each of the 250 muffins it served at an August 2009 legal conference.
The high-priced muffins were not created by a celebrity pastry chef, nor were the cookies and brownies that cost the DOJ almost $10 apiece. The pastries came from a hotel a few blocks down the street from the White House.
The report notes that it did not look at a single conference, but a total of 10 conferences the DOJ held in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The Inspector General turned up examples of extravagant spending at multiple conferences, like the $32 per person the department spent on Cracker Jacks, popcorn and candy bars.
All told, the Justice Department spent $121 million on conferences in the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009, a sum that exceeded its own spending limits. The DOJ spent nearly $600,000 of that on event planning services for only five of its conferences.
Justice Department officials did not dispute the Inspector General’s conclusion that its conference spending was both extravagant and wasteful.
A department spokeswoman simply said Tuesday that the conferences in question were held when there were no limits on food and beverage spending and that the DOJ has since implemented measures “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”
That was not good enough for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and the senior member of his party on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Justice Department.
“Sixteen-dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change,” he said in a statement. “People are outraged, and rightly so.”
The Republican lawmaker said the DOJ’s conference spending is precisely the kind of waste that should be cut first in the congressional supercommittee’s plan task to find $1.2 trillion in savings for purposes of federal debt reduction.