Remember the Pentagon’s $600 toilet seats and $400 hammers?
Now, the $16 muffins at a Justice Department conference are causing, well, heartburn.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is steamed over a Justice Department inspector general audit that found apparently "extravagant and potentially wasteful" expenses at conferences, including $16 muffins and coffee and tea that cost as much as $8 per 8-ounce cup.
"The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing," Grassley said in a statement.
"The inspector general’s office just gave a blueprint for the first cuts that should be made by the super committee," he added, referring to the panel tasked with reducing the federal budget deficit.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees Justice Department spending, also weighed in with his displeasure over the food and beverage tab for conferences.
"It is clear that while American taxpayers were tightening their belts and making difficult financial decisions, the department was splurging on wasteful snacks and drinks as well as unnecessary event planning 'consultants,'" he said in a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said that most of the conferences that were the subject of the audit were planned and held in the last administration "when there were no strict limits on food and beverage costs" for such events.
"We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur," the spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that the department has taken steps "to ensure that these problems do not occur again." In the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, overall conference spending was reduced, the spokeswoman added.
In the case of the muffins, the report credited planners of a 2009 conference in Washington for not serving full meals. However, the audit noted that the planners spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies.
"By itemizing these costs, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each," according to the report.
A $16 muffin? Not at D.C. area bakeries
By Emily Ingram
If you’re looking for a $16 pastry, your local bakery may not be the best bet. A government conference might be.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle were aghast Tuesday after a Justice Department audit found “wasteful or extravagant spending” at agency conferences, including $16 muffins and nearly $10 cookies served to attendees.
Area bakery employees, who make a living serving up sweets that cost far less, were befuddled at the prices, too.
At Sticky Fingers, a vegan bakery in Columbia Heights, shoppers can nosh on dairy- and egg-free muffins for about a quarter of the price of their costlier peers, even with the added costs of specialty ingredients.
“Even with a [20 percent] catering charge added on, you wouldn’t be paying more than $5 for a piece,” said Ben Adams, general manager at Sticky Fingers.
The Justice Department audit notes that the elite hotels that hosted the conferences routinely tacked on service charges of around 20 percent.
Bakeries’ prices for cupcakes — a D.C. staple — also fell far short of the cost that the government paid for sweets at its conferences. Shoppers can expect to pay $2 and $4 per cupcake, depending on the shop.
At Hello Cupcake near Dupont Circle, most flavors cost $3.25 each. Add on a quarter for seasonal flavors, which are only on sale for a month, employee Rachel Rossi said.
A half-dozen sweets from Georgetown Cupcake come in at $15, still less than a single muffin from the Justice Department’s tab.
Even specialty allergen-free cupcakes with satin ribbons at the base cost $3.50 each at Free For All Cupcakes, a home bakery in Fairfax that creates its sweets in a kitchen free of nuts or tree nuts.
Owner Jeanny Lee said she couldn’t even think of what would go into a $10 cookie or a $16 muffin. The audit did give her one idea, though.
“The next time my customers complain about my prices, I’m going to direct them to that study,” she said.
You tell us: Give us your recipe for what you consider a $16 muffin.
Wow! I think the ruling class justifies such expenditures. Don't even ask what they pay for hotels when they travel. I wonder how much Pelosi's flights totaled while she was speaker? Or all the AF-1 flights for Obama? But don't get me wrong all politicians spend our money as if we can afford it and they deserve it. We need public servants who serve rather than fleece, but I don't know where to find them.
I used to fly to meetings in Princeton, or DC with a group of 12 or so on a Lear Jet, not thinking that considering all associated costs it just may have been cheaper to fly commercial.