Saturday, September 24, 2011

Long Division, Wrong Division and Hilton Honors

I usually write this blog only once a week, sometime even less often. But, yesterday’s subject, “Snorks and $16 Muffins”, deserves a timely update. While the facts remain in dispute, it is becoming increasingly evident that the group auditing the muffin/cookie/coffee expenses got it wrong. The Inspector General’s (IG) office of the Department of Justice (DOJ) “stands by” their initial report of $16 muffins, $10 cookies and $8 coffee. The Hilton says no way. They note that this was a 5 day event with 534 people in attendance and the total bill for all refreshments including the muffins and cookies was $40,000. Still not cheap, but fairly typical of the expenses one would expect to incur for this type of event at a convention hotel.

(Now we really should have a discussion as to the purpose of the event and the number of attendees. Depending on how many traveled and how many actually stayed at the hotel, this hoot-n-nanny probably cost the taxpayers $750,000 or more. That’s not counting lost productivity. Oh wait, these are government employees. We may actually have derived a net benefit by having them doing something other than their jobs. The event was the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Legal Conference. Decide for yourself what the attendees would have otherwise accomplished if not at this conference.)

So let’s recap. A federal agency decides to have a conference and invite over 500 people which literally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. This conference was in August 2009. At some point the IG audits the expenses and two years later we get the $16 Muffin headline. I don’t know how many people are employed in the IG’s office or how many got involved in this audit or how many are now involved in the re-audit. But folks, this isn’t rocket science. We have the cost information. We have the attendee information. If there were any questions, I’m sure that the Hilton could have provided more details. The whole story stands as a classic example of our government flailing around and spending money and remaining clueless as to how much was spent, by whom and for what.

As a Hilton Honors member, I owe Hilton an apology for accusing them of charging $16 for a muffin, $10 for a cookie and $8 for coffee. Those are Starbucks prices, what was a I thinking?

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