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Justice Dept. conference featured $16 muffins, report says

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer
updated 9:13 PM EDT, Tue September 20, 2011
New cost guidelines were implemented to crack down on wasteful spending in the Justice Department after a 2007 internal audit.
New cost guidelines were implemented to crack down on wasteful spending in the Justice Department after a 2007 internal audit.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "People are outraged, and rightly so," says Sen. Grassley
  • $16 muffins, $8 cups of tea and $32 snack breaks found at conferences, report says
  • The latest survey follows up on a 2007 audit that found $5 Swedish meatballs
  • New guidelines were supposed to stop wasteful or extravagant spending

Washington (CNN) -- An internal Justice Department audit in 2007 drew gasps and guffaws when investigators found that employees at a $60,000 reception were served platters of Swedish meatballs at a cost of $5 per meatball. So new cost guidelines were implemented to crack down on wasteful or extravagant spending.

But a follow-up report issued Tuesday discloses that a 2009 legal conference provided attendees with $16 muffins.

Another Washington Justice Department conference provided 8-ounce cups of coffee and tea for $8.24: More than a dollar per ounce.

The 122-page report by the Office of Inspector General also notes a $32 per person snack break consisting of Cracker Jack, popcorn and candy bars.

The examination of 10 conferences was made to determine whether the new rules were helping bring the costs of meetings and conferences under control.

The investigators focused on food and beverage costs and event planning costs, which were viewed as excessive in the 2007 audit.

Justice officials were also slammed for hiring a consultant in Anchorage, Alaska, to serve as a liaison with a Palm Springs, California, hotel. That required $3,500 in travel costs and a $29,000 face-to-face planning meeting in Palm Springs, even though the event had been held at the same venue three times before.

"Our audit found that two (Justice) components -- the Office of Justice Programs and the Office on Violence Against Women -- spent $600,000 in grant funds to procure event planning services for five conferences without demonstrating that these firms offered the most cost effective logistical services," the inspector general said.

In total, Justice personnel participated in 1,832 conferences during 2008 and 2009 at a total cost of $121 million.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, released a statement soon after the report's release, blasting Justice officials.

"$16 muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change. The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so," he said.

Among other things, the inspector general recommended that event planners conduct a cost-benefit analysis to justify ordering food and beverages and implement guidelines on conference food and beverage limits. It also called on event planners to "justify the need for travel, lodging and food and beverage costs associated with future conference planning meetings."

CNN's Jim Barnett contributed to this report.

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