The Justice Department is in hot water after an internal audit found some pretty wasteful spending at DoJ conferences. In 2009, the DoJ spent $73.3 million on conferences, up from $47.8 million the year before (which was more in line with historical spending).
One of the worst offenders was a conference held by the Office of Violence Against Women. It featured a "Mission Dolores" lunch at a cost of $76 per person. The DoJ guidelines capped lunch costs at $29 per person. The costly lunch was followed by a costly snack of Crack Jacks, popcorn, and candy bars at a price of $32 per person. The conference also had coffee that ran $1.03 an ounce. That's $8.24 for an 8 oz serving, $12.63 for a 12oz tall, and $20.60 for a 20 oz venti.
At that price, you'd better be throwing the coffee on someone actually attacking a woman.
Among the other offenders (from difference offices) were $16 muffins, $10 cookies and brownies, and $5.57 sodas.
While these expenses are clearly indicative of waste, some of the other costs highlighted by the DoJ report run above their guidelines, but are not outside the realm of sanity.
A conference for US Attorneys had a choice of entrees including crusted red snapper, stuffed chicken breast, or beef medallions, all with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, side dishes, and salads, at a cost of $58 per person. Over the $46.50 dinner cap, but a reasonable price for what was served.
An Amber Alert lunch served beef short ribs, vegetable sides, and a crème brulee desert for $27.50, $8 over the limit for the event. Not a crazy price for lunch, though the same conference had coffee for $0.65 an ounce, or $7.80 for a 12 ounce serving.
A conference for the Executive Office of US Attorneys offered hors d’oeuvres of Beef Wellington, spinach and feta filled phylo, and tuna canape. Including service charges, the Beef Willington and spinach and feta appetizers cost $7.32, while the tuna canape went for $6.71. Serving Beef Wellington at a government conference when government spending is being highly scrutinized is going to look very bad, but $7.32 -including tip and catering fees- is a damn good price.
Many of the cost overruns were allowed because the events were planned through outside companies, or because the cost limits were not yet put in place. However, neither reason really excuses spending $5.57 on a soda. That's money that could be going to hiring junior US attorneys.