Justice Department's $16 muffins don't sit well
Now, the $16 muffins at a Justice Department conference are causing, well, heartburn.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is steamed over a Justice Department inspector general audit that found apparently "extravagant and potentially wasteful" expenses at conferences, including $16 muffins and coffee and tea that cost as much as $8 per 8-ounce cup.
"The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing," Grassley said in a statement.
"The inspector general’s office just gave a blueprint for the first cuts that should be made by the super committee," he added, referring to the panel tasked with reducing the federal budget deficit.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees Justice Department spending, also weighed in with his displeasure over the food and beverage tab for conferences.
"It is clear that while American taxpayers were tightening their belts and making difficult financial decisions, the department was splurging on wasteful snacks and drinks as well as unnecessary event planning 'consultants,'" he said in a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said that most of the conferences that were the subject of the audit were planned and held in the last administration "when there were no strict limits on food and beverage costs" for such events.
"We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur," the spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that the department has taken steps "to ensure that these problems do not occur again." In the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, overall conference spending was reduced, the spokeswoman added.
In the case of the muffins, the report credited planners of a 2009 conference in Washington for not serving full meals. However, the audit noted that the planners spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies.
"By itemizing these costs, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," according to the report.
-- Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: How much would you pay for a muffin? This one was photographed in an L.A. Times studio -- and likely cost considerably less than $16. That can't be said for those served at a Justice Department conference. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times