APRIL 16, 2013
Illustrating that the nation’s perpetual budget crisis has done little to slow down the government’s manic spending spree, the Department of Justice (DOJ) blew north of $58 million on conferences last year.
The figure doesn’t even factor in all of the bloated agency’s extracurricular conferences because it excludes those that cost less than $20,000. One could argue that $58 million is a drop in the bucket for an agency with an annual budget of $28 billion, but these are hard times and the government is supposed to be cutting back on spending, especially for unnecessary things like conferences.
Why bother when it’s not your money? Besides, DOJ brass is likely patting itself on the back for slashing conference spending by tens of millions compared to the previous two years. The agency actually reduced its conference budget by $33 million in the last two years and that includes a $7 million cut in conference spending from last year. How big of them!
These alarming figures were recently made public by the DOJ’s inspector general (Michael Horowitz), who this month presented a congressional committee with the many ways the agency wastes tax dollars. The DOJ watchdog put it quite diplomatically when he told the panel that the agency needs to do a better job scrutinizing conference spending as it attempts to reduce waste and inefficiency in a tight budget climate.
“We believe that the current budgetary environment demands that the Department search for adequate alternatives to conferences, such as video conferencing, and that it strongly consider restricting its conference spending even further,” Horowitz told lawmakers from the House Committee on Judiciary and Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
His probe also uncovered other areas in which the DOJ is wasting public money and identified more than “$250 million in taxpayer funds that could be put to better use” by the agency. Among them is the inefficient way the DOJ runs federal prisons, duplicative programs that could be combined to save money and an out-of-control division that’s awarded approximately $15 billion in grants and $27 billion in contracts in the last few years.
This is crazy stuff for an agency that was firmly ordered to buckle down on frivolous spending as the country suffers through a never-ending financial crisis. “Avoiding wasteful and ineffective spending is a fundamental responsibility of federal agencies in any budgetary environment,” the DOJ watchdog reminds. “But when times are tight, as they are today, the government must redouble its efforts to make the most of every taxpayer dollar.” Hint, hint Mr. President.
Squandering hefty sums on exorbitant work conferences is nothing new at the DOJ and in fact has been a serious problem for some time. A few years ago the DOJ’s IG published a scathing audit revealing that the agency spent $120 million to host law enforcement conferences that featured “extravagant and wasteful” costs for food, beverages and event planning. Examples listed in the report include $16 muffins for breakfast, $76 lunches, $10 cookies and candy bars that cost more than $7 each.
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