A $16 muffin? Justice Dept. audit finds ‘wasteful’ and extravagant spending

They may run just over $2 at your average coffee shop, but the Justice Department paid seven to eight times as much at a gathering it held at the Capital Hilton in Washington. And on Tuesday, the muffins seemed well on their way to joining the Pentagon’s $600 toilet seat as symbols of wasteful spending.

Justice Department auditors also criticized a $76-per-person lunch at a conference at a Hilton in San Francisco, featuring slow-cooked Berkshire pork carnitas, hearts-of-romaine salad — and coffee at $8.24 a cup.

A report released Tuesday by the department’s acting inspector general, Cynthia A. Schnedar, is full of what she called “wasteful or extravagant spending” at 10 law enforcement conferences spanning the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Descriptions of cookies and brownies costing the government nearly $10 each and beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres at $7.32 per serving struck a nerve in Washington, where austerity and belt-tightening are the watchwords at a time of economic hardship.

The reaction was blistering — and bipartisan.

“Sixteen-dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change,’’ said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so.’’

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