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Taxpayers eat $7 million government lunch tab

  • Story Highlights
  • Report cites $5 meatballs, $4.55 sodas, as contributors to high conference costs
  • One Justice Department conference cost $395,000 in 2005, audit says
  • Inspector general's report questions Justice Department standards
  • Justice Department agrees it needs to adopt new cost standards and policies
  • Next Article in Politics »
From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hungry attendees at Justice Department conferences have been enjoying millions of dollars in meatballs and other goodies courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, according to an inspector general's report released Friday.

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The Justice Department paid more than $13,000 for cookies at conferences, says a report released Friday.

The report cited $5 meatballs and cans of soft drinks each costing $4.55 among reasons 10 conferences during 2005 and 2006 cost nearly $7 million.

One four-day conference of 1,500 people in Los Angeles cost the Justice Department $394,000 in August 2005.

"Overall this conference's daily food expense averaged $64 per registrant, which exceeded the approved federal per diem rate of $51 for meals," the report said.

The 128-page report does not suggest laws were broken, although it questions the Justice Department's judgment when it comes to the cost of its events.

In addition to the platters of Swedish meatballs and soda pop, the Justice Department paid more than $13,000 for cookies, according to the inspector general's office.

A Senate committee requested the report on Justice Department conferences, which, in fiscal year 2006, cost taxpayers nearly $46 million, including travel, programming, food and associated costs. Year to year costs show such meetings have totaled from $33.8 million in 2001 to a high of $58 million in 2004.

The report reviewed the nine most expensive U.S. conferences between October 2004 and September 2006 and the most expensive international conference during that same time.

The 2005 Los Angeles event -- which was called the "Weed and Seed" national conference -- attracted particular attention from the audit's authors.

It "included a $53 per person two-entree and dessert lunch for 120 attendees, a one-hour $64,000 'Stars and Stripes' themed networking reception and a post-conference meeting for 30 DOJ employees who were provided a sandwich buffet lunch at a cost of $44 per person and an 'At the Movies' theme snack (candy, popcorn, and soft drinks) for an additional $25 per person," the report said.

The report, from the Office of Inspector General, Glenn Fine, expressed concern that most of the conference attendees failed to deduct their allowable per diem meal costs because they received free meals.

"When component managers do not systematically review vouchers to ensure that such deductions are made, the government effectively pays for the meals twice," the report said.

Another meeting detailed in the report was a 2006 COPS National Conference in Washington. Some 1,100 attendees were offered daily breakfast buffets, two lunches, a networking reception, and two "themed breaks."

"The networking reception itself cost more than $60,000 and included a chef-carved roast beef and turkey, a penne pasta station, and platters of Swedish meatballs at a cost of nearly $5 per meatball," the report said. "The average food and beverage cost per day for the COPS conference was $83 per attendee -- $19 dollars over the $64 federal per diem meal rate for Washington."

Among the report's recommendations: Planners should compare costs in multiple sites in multiple cities unless there is a special reason a meeting needs to be held in a particular city.

The report also called for developing conference food and beverage policies "to ensure adequate justification of significant food and beverage costs."

The Justice Department said it agreed with the recommendations. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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