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Oct 31

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$16 muffins were never the full story

The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice just issued its revised audit report 11-43 regarding conference spending. Last month, this report received substantial press attention. The revision is explained as follows:

This revised report supersedes the original version of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report, “Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs,” Audit Report 11-43, published in September 2011. The original report, which examined event planning and food and beverage costs at 10 Department of Justice (the Department) conferences between October 2007 and September 2009, contained a discussion of costs for food and beverages purchased for an Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) conference at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., in August 2009. Among other things, the report concluded that the EOIR had spent $4,200 for 250 muffins, or $16 per muffin, a finding that brought significant negative publicity to the Department and the Capital Hilton.

After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.

Finally, we hope that our correction of the record for this 1 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.”

Even without the $16 muffins, there are other expenditures to draw criticism. Here are some examples:

…a DOJ conference included $7.32 Beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres …

$76 per person on the “Mission Dolores” lunch for 65 people … Had the JMD rules been applicable, this lunch would have exceeded the allowable JMD per person rate of $27 by $49 (181 percent) …

attendees received Cracker Jacks, popcorn, and candy bars at a single break that cost $32 per person …

Coffee and tea at the events cost between $0.62 and $1.03 an ounce. At the $1.03 per-ounce price, an 8-ounce cup of coffee would have cost $8.24.”

The real problem with these expenditures is not $32 candy bars and Cracker Jacks. I am one of the folks who the certain politicians and protesters claim need to be taxed more because I am not paying my fair share. But I have never enjoyed (and would not be able to regularly afford) a $7.32 hors d’oeuvres, $32 for single sitting of candy, or an $8.24 cup of coffee. The government loses credibility when spending like this occurs.  One cannot help but question whether additional taxes are really as necessary as claimed.

 

About the author

David Nolte

I am a founding principal of Fulcrum Inquiry, an accounting and economic consulting firm that performs damage analysis for commercial litigation, forensic accountings, financial investigations, and business valuations. I am a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and an Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA), as well as having other professional credentials. I regularly serve as an expert witness involving damages measurement. My litigation-oriented resume is on Fulcrum's website.

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