September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011

Worth Every Penny

One of the news stories binging around the beltway today is a recent OIG audit of the Department of Justice. Notably, this one’s about monies spent on “conference planning food and beverage costs.” The entire report, if you’d care to read it, is here.

Naturally, I dug right in.

(Perhaps a little background is in order. OIG stands for “Office of the Inspector General,” a component of each department/agency responsible for checking up on everybody else. An OIG typically gets funded directly by Congress (as opposed to receiving money from the department/agency head), so it can report issues without fear of financial reprisal. Though I have not yet worked in an OIG, I hope someday to do so. My attention to detail and precipitous nosiness make me an ideal fit. CDTSNBN*, I will watch the watchmen!

But back to the report. DOJ OIG (see how fast you devolve into alphabet soup) sampled 10 conferences over 2 years. (One could argue against this methodology, but whatever.) They found “costly meals, refreshments, and themed breaks … indicative of wasteful or extravagant spending.” Things like $16 muffins and $8 cups of coffee.

(Researching and compiling a report like this would truly be my magnum opus. You may dream of being an astronaut, but I dream of reviewing ATF conference menus.)

The way I see it, there are a few things in play here:

The cost of catering. I have limited experience with catering, but a survey of my Facebook wall indicates that wedding receptions cost a LOT. Maybe not $5-a-meatball prices, but…y’know.

Government restrictions on buying food and beverages. We have this thing called the FAR, and also this thing called the FTR, and suffice to say there are A Lot of Rules about who can pay how much for what. Throw the concepts of “training” and “conferences” into the mix and it gets dicey.

Common sense. DOJ appears to be lacking common sense when it comes to food and drink. Then again, SO DO I.

Though I’ve only read the executive summary (and skimmed the remainder of the report), I’m fairly certain that the findings indicate some bad choices were made. Also, that DOJ feeds its people really well. Also, that going into catering may be the wisest investment strategy in this economy after 1) winning the lottery and 2) buying gold.

I bet those muffins were good, too.

* Many thanks to friend-of-blog Justin for the acronym.

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