$16 muffins, $8 coffee served in Justice audit

WASHINGTON Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:42pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As the government grapples to find ways to trim the bloated federal deficit, a new report suggests officials might start with cutting out $16 muffins and $10 cookies.

"We found the Department (of Justice) spent $16 on each of the 250 muffins served at an August 2009 legal conference in Washington," said a DOJ Office of Inspector General report released on Tuesday.

The DOJ spent $121 million on conferences in fiscal 2008 and 2009, which exceeded its own spending limits and appeared to be extravagant and wasteful, according to the report that examined 10 conferences held during that period.

The review turned up the expensive muffins, which came from the Capital Hilton Hotel just blocks from the White House, as well as cookies and brownies that cost almost $10 each.

The department spent $32 per person on snacks of Cracker Jack, popcorn, and candy bars and coffee that cost $8.24 per cup at another conference, the report said.

The DOJ also spent nearly $600,000 for event planning services for five conferences, the document said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said most of the gathering were held when there were no strict limits on food and beverage costs, adding the DOJ had taken steps since 2009 "to ensure that these problems do not occur again."

Word of the agency's extravagant spending drew a swift response from Capitol Hill.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight of the Justice Department, said the report was a blueprint for the first cuts that should be made by the "super committee" searching for at least $1.2 trillion in savings.

"Sixteen dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change," Grassley said in a statement. "People are outraged, and rightly so."

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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