Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work: Volume III – Muffin Edition

This week’s news of the absurdity of waste, fraud, and abuse across government comes from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Audit Division. Their report, titled Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs, is a follow-up to a previous September 2007 which examined expenditures for 10 major DOJ conferences held between October 2004 and September 2006. That audit found that DOJ had few internal controls to limit the expense of conference planning and food and beverage costs at DOJ conferences. This report highlights the same story, and little to no corrective actions by DOJ to mitigate this waste. Makes you think fondly of the $50 dollar hammers and $500 toilet seats of Defense back in the 80s, doesn’t it?

Of course politicians and the media jumped on the story for easy press, zeroing in on the $16 muffins and nearly $10 cookies served to attendees at one event. Emily Ingram of the Washington Post created a good competitive landscape of the muffin offerings in Washington, and only at government conferences will those prices apply.What is even worse is that DOJ officials basically stated they thought they were addressing the issue:

…Justice officials did not dispute most of the findings. The department did not offer an official to speak by name, but a spokeswoman who was not authorized to comment publicly said the agency “agrees that excessive spending of the types identified in the report should not occur” and has taken steps to prevent it. She said conference costs have been cut this year as part of an effort to curtail non­essential spending, though she could not specify an amount.

Justice Department officials gave auditors a variety of explanations for the expenses, saying consultants they hired to help plan events had valuable knowledge and that the department had done its best to control costs. Officials from one Justice office said they thought they were saving money by serving muffins and other snacks instead of full meals…

You’re not saving money DOJ, you’re wasting it needlessly.

The OIG recommendations are pretty straight forward: itemize costs and ensure you have adequate price analysis to ensure “best value.” These controls need to go much further by commoditizing these expenditures, of course itemizing all costs (both direct and indirect), and ensure no surprises and real best-value. There are many other quality, yet reasonable, venues that can accommodate these functions other than the Ritz Carlton.

Adequate market research must be conducted, lessons learned applied, and opportunities for strategic sourcing and leveraging the buying power of the government must be utilized. Further, perhaps this is an opportunity to consolidate BPAs across government and further leverage buying power, in addition to possible using reverse auctions to drive down prices. Cost savings of these types of expenditures are really low-hanging fruit, akin to eliminating free coffee or soda in the break room, which makes this report even more shocking at the level of waste rampant in government.

We obviously have a long way to go in reducing spending, although a thorough spend analysis of these commodity-type of expenditures could probably find millions, if not billions, in needless waste and efficiencies. The opportunities to save money are everywhere. Just look in the snack basket apparently.

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