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$16 muffins for Justice Department weren't $16 after all

October 28, 2011 |  4:38 pm

Remember all that political indigestion over $16 muffins served at a Justice Department conference in Washington? It turns out to be a half-baked story.

The department's Office of the Inspector General on Friday said it was wrong. "The department did not pay $16 per muffin,'' it said.

The inspector general’s earlier finding that the department spent $4,200 for 250 muffins at a 2009 gathering at the Capital Hilton had drawn an angry reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and a denial from Hilton. Hilton said the tab for a department conference included fruit, coffee, juice, plus tax and tip, in addition to the muffins.

"We regret the error," the inspector general said in a revised report, which followed a further review and discussions with the Capital Hilton.

"We hope that our correction of the record for this one conference among the 10 conferences we reviewed does not detract from the more significant conclusion in our report: government conference expenditures must be managed carefully, and the department can do more to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and accounted for properly,'' the office added.

Indeed, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Friday: “The fact remains that the Justice Department is spending $32 on Cracker Jack packages and $600,000 on event planners and not minding the taxpayers who are footing the bill."

(Actually, the $32 per person charge to which he refers included not only Cracker Jacks, but other snacks, including popcorn and candy bars, and a service charge, according to the revised report.)

"But, the more important question is why the Justice Department has nearly doubled its expenditures on conferences since 2008,'' Grassley continued. "When Americans are pinching every last penny, going from $47.8 million in 2008 to $91.5 million last year in conference expenditures is irresponsible and wasteful. Rather than spending time revising a report at the behest of the Justice Department and Hilton, maybe the IG could better spend its resources finding out why the conference expenditures have doubled in the last two years.” 

The White House budget office has directed federal agencies to review policies and controls associated with conference expenses.


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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: This is not a $16 muffin. This muffin was photographed at The Times for different reasons entirely. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times