Hilton denies it charged $16 per muffin to Justice Department
The $16-per-person tab included fresh fruit, coffee and juice, plus tax and gratuity, in addition to muffins, a Hilton Worldwide spokesman said.
"Hilton has a long-standing practice of working with government agencies to plan meetings and events that fall within their budgets," the spokesman said in a statement, suggesting that the receipts examined by Justice Department auditors didn’t reflect the fruit, coffee and juice. "Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided..."
But a spokesman for the Justice Department inspector general responded, "We stand by our report.''
An audit that found "extravagant and potentially wasteful" expenses at Justice Department conferences -- including $4,200 paid for 250 muffins, with service and gratuity, at a 2009 conference at the Capital Hilton -- has caused a Pepto-Bismol moment in Washington.
The White House budget office responded with a memo directing federal agencies to review policies and controls associated with conference expenses.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, assailed the department’s "lavish" spending at a committee meeting Thursday.
He didn’t confine himself to excoriating the department over $16 muffins but also $10 cookies, $5 cans of soda, $8 cups of coffee, and over $32 per person for Cracker Jacks and other snacks –- on top of nearly $600,000 to hire outside event planners.
"Simply amazing," Grassley said, suggesting that a congressional panel tasked with reducing the budget deficit take a look at conference expenses.
Grassley said the review of conference expenses will take too long and "tell us what we already know — these agencies have an institutional problem that needs to be fixed by Congress."
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) went to the House floor with a muffin on Thursday, and asked, "Where do you even find a muffin that costs $16? I've never seen one."
"Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man?" he added. "I know the muffin man, and the government should quit spending somebody else's money to keep the muffin man rolling in the dough."
-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Sen. Charles E. Grassley, shown here speaking to reporters in 2009, is not pleased by the cost of muffins served at a Justice Department conference; something of a food fight has begun as a result. Credit: AP / Harry Hamburg