Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was very, very upset — and even called for someone to lose their job — when he learned last week that the Justice Department was accused of paying $16 per muffin at a 2009 legal conference in D.C. (though that number is disputed).
Grassley continued pressing the issue on Monday, writing a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew asking for more information on his review of conference expenditures.
Regardless of whether DOJ really paid $16 for a muffin — and it seems almost certain they didn’t — what’s nice about federal agencies is that they’ve got inspector generals to try to keep their actions and their spending in line.
That’s not true for Sen. Grassley and his colleagues in the Senate. To get a peek at what they’re spending, you’ve got to trot over to the Hart Senate office building, open up a couple green books, and start digging. If you want to take some copies home, it will cost you 20 cents per page.
If you wanted to find out more about how much a federal agency like the Justice Department was spending on conferences, you could file a Freedom of Information Act request. Again, not true for Congress: they’re exempt from FOIA.
The budget information you can obtain — which is supposed to be “publicly post on-line” in a “searchable, itemized format” after the 2011 fiscal year ends this month — don’t look to be drilled down to a per muffin rate.
Broadly, we do know that Grassley’s office spent a total of $2,931,833.95 in fiscal year 2010, much of it on salaries, according to available data.
We can even discover how much money his office spent on transportation, like the fact that his July 2010 trip from Washington, D.C. to Des Moines, New Hartford, Atlantic, Ankeny, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Pleasant Hill, Urbandale and back to D.C cost $673.90, plus a $347.74 per diem and $2 in incidentals. But a more detailed list of expenditures is much more difficult to come upon.
Things are a bit less opaque in the House of Representatives, whose members spent a total of $2.6 million on food in fiscal year 2009, including $604,000 for bottled water. Still, the data doesn’t specify a per-burger rate, as AOL noted last year.
For what it’s worth, the Senate’s catering menu lists a per muffin rate of $2.50. But in the past, Senate food has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers. In fiscal year 2007, Senate restaurants lost $1.3 million. The Senate later voted to privatize the operation.
“Since 1993, losses have averaged over $900,000 annually and taxpayers have been required to provide $18.1 million in operational subsidies,” the Clerk of the U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee wrote in 2008. “In fact, the Senate Restaurants have operated at a loss in 37 of the last 44 years.”
Embedded below are a few pages from the latest available budget figures from the Senate. The first few pages are a summary of transactions by appropriations as of March 31, 2011. Next up are Grassley’s office expenditures in fiscal year 2010, followed by the data that is available for the first part of fiscal year 2011.