Justice inspector general: Conference muffins weren't $16

The Hilton hotel chain said the word "muffins" on receipts cited on the initial report was simply shorthand.

Story highlights

  • Justice inspector general now says agency did not pay $16 per muffin at a conference
  • The new report does not say what the muffins actually cost
  • Justice inspector general admits mistake in an initial cost assessment
Oops.
The Justice Department inspector general announced Friday that its highly publicized assertion last month that department officials paid $16 per muffin at a Washington legal conference was wrong.
Acting Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar issued a revised report, which said her office's highly publicized original report in September had incorrectly concluded that the cost of the muffins at a 2009 conference were so pricey. "We regret the error in our original report," the new document says.
The $16 claim created an inside-the-Beltway storm, with both the Hilton hotel chain and key department officials blasting the independent inspector general's report. The report cited the high cost of the muffins as an example of uncontrolled federal costs.
"After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the Executive Office of Immigration Review conference," the new inspector general's report said.
"After further review of the newly provided documentation and information and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the (Justice) 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," the reported noted.
The new report does not attach a cost to the notorious muffins.
The EOIR hosted the August 2009 conference at the Capital Hilton in downtown Washington.
The Hilton chain and conference organizers vigorously challenged the initial cost assertion, which cited the $4,200 cost for 250 muffins at a conference reception. The hotel chain said the muffin and pastry costs included fresh fruits and beverages, and that space for the conference was provided free of charge.
Though the initial inspector general's report said the receipts specifically cited "muffins," the hotel insisted that was simply shorthand.
The story received front-page treatment in Washington-area newspapers, and came amid high-profile battles over government budgets and the need for cost-cutting.
"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," the new report noted. "The department can do more to ensure that taxpayers' dollars are spent wisely and accounted for properly."