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Did You Hear about the $16 Muffins (paid for by taxpayers)?

The Justice Department this week showed just why the American people get cynical about their federal government.  An audit of several conferences organized by the Justice Department showed lavish amounts of taxpayer money spent on items such as $16 muffins (yes, that’s apiece), $10 cookies and $8 coffee.  Altogether, the report found that the department spent 121 million taxpayer dollars on conferences between 2007 and 2009.  

The expenditures this audit found are simply amazing.  This audit also comes on the heels of another Inspector General audit from 2007, with similar findings.  It appears that the Justice Department is blind to the fiscal realities our country is facing.  

One of the most egregious examples of the elitism in the Department of Justice was the department’s rationale for choosing a four-star hotel for a conference.  The reply was, “Only a four or five star hotel was capable of providing the level and quality of services expected by senior executives and other political appointees.”  

Millions of Americans are unemployed, and the federal deficit sits at well over $14 trillion, yet, the Justice Department continues to live the high life.  While the audit covered conferences ending in 2009, some of the conferences highlighted were held after a May 2009 memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General providing directive on Conference and Premium Class Travel Expenditures.  It leads me to believe that the excessive spending on conferences hasn’t changed.

That doesn’t sit well with me.

The Super Committee, the group of members of Congress working on a bipartisan plan to cut the deficit, has been meeting, and this audit would give them an easy place to start.  These cuts won’t solve our fiscal problems, but they will send a signal that business as usual is over.  

In addition, the President announced a review of all federal agencies’ spending on conferences.  It’s a nice gesture, but that sort of review will take too long and tell us what we already know — these agencies have an institutional problem that needs to be fixed by Congress.

There’s no reason to wait.

I plan to help the President by offering an amendment to any bill authorizing grant funding that comes before the Judiciary Committee that cuts off the wasteful spending on conferences.  The Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Ranking Member, oversees the Justice Department.

Common sense, reason, and the American taxpayer demand action.

September 23, 2011