Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) isn’t letting up on the fact that the Justice Department’s Inspector General calculated that the department spent $16 per muffin at a conference two years ago, calling on someone to be fired over the 2009 baked good kerfuffle.
Thanks to the blitz of bad PR, both the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget sent out memos and statements clarifying that cutting down on conference expenses was a priority and clarifying that they’d already cracked down on overspending.
Not enough, says Grassley.
“Unless people are fired, and heads roll, you never get changes made,” Grassley told CNN on Thursday.
“Congress can’t fire people, so it’s got to be the president. That’s where the buck stops,” Grassley continued.
“He delegates it to other people. And somebody in the senior core of executives has got to just decide we aren’t going to spend $16 for muffins, and anybody who does is going to be fired,” Grassley said.
Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum is convinced this whole $16 muffin business is bunk. He excerpts this section of the OIG report:
Considering the EOIR reported that at least 534 people received refreshments at its 2009 Legal Training Conference in Washington, D.C., it spent an average of $14.74 per attendee per day on food and beverages—just above the $14.72 JMD limit for refreshments. We credit the EOIR for implementing the following controls to reduce food and beverage costs: (1) it provided just refreshments and not full meals, (2) it ordered fewer refreshments than the total number of reported attendees, and (3) it received 15 gallons of coffee, 30 gallons of iced tea, and 200 pieces of fruit for free. However, many individual food and beverage items listed on conference invoices and paid by the EOIR were very costly. The EOIR spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies. By itemizing these costs, we determined that, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each.
“So did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins? Of course not. In fact, it’s obvious that someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget,” Drum writes. “The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided.”
“None of this is to say that DOJ didn’t overspend on its conferences,” Drum writes. “In fact, it sounds like they did — though in some cases this was just an artifact of applying overhead costs to the food instead of accounting for it separately.”
“But the $16 muffin? That’s a myth,” Drum says. “It’ll never die now that it’s been delivered to posterity thanks to some enthusiast in the OIG who broke out a calculator and mistakenly assumed they could calculate actual costs this way, but it’s still a myth.”