The Justice Department’s internal watchdog blasted the U.S. Marshals Service for excessive spending on “swag,” but the attorney general spent half as much on just three events.
Internal documents reveal that award spending for the Annual Attorney General Awards Ceremony — headed by Attorney General Eric Holder — more than doubled between 2009 and 2011, coming to a total of over $410,000 in the course of just three ceremonies.
The event is held by the Justice Department to recognize employees for their work. Holder presents the awards himself, which may explain why the department spared no expense when purchasing them.
The documents — obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the watchdog group Cause of Action — reveal that in 2009, Justice Management Division shelled out $80,245 for 286 plaques, crystal eagle statuettes and desktop trophies.
That’s an average of $280 per award, though many undoubtedly cost much more. In contrast, this week’s inspector general’s report criticized the U.S. Marshals Service for spending just $125 on crystal statues, labeling the expense “excessive.”
It gets worse. Awards spending for the annual ceremony doubled in 2010, skyrocketing to $160,337 for 357 recipients. That’s an astonishing $449 average per plaque. That number climbed even higher in 2011, reaching $172,845 for 384 awards, or $450 per employee.
Overall, Justice Management Division spent $413,427 on awards for the three events held between 2009 and 2011. That doesn’t include the price of catering, entertainment and venue space for the ceremony itself. The Daughters of the American Revolution’s Constitution Hall, where the event is typically held, costs at least $4,500 to rent per hour.
The price tag is reminiscent of the General Service Administration’s 2010 conference in Las Vegas, which stuck taxpayers with an $823,000 bill for a lavish five-day meeting complete with mind readers and a sushi bar.
Data for 2012 and 2013 are unavailable, but the problem of excessive event spending continues to plague the Justice Department. Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn sent a letter to Attorney General Holder last summer claiming that $58 million was spent on conferences and events in 2012. While down from a $90 million high in 2010, Coburn still demanded the department better prioritize spending in the face of shrinking federal budgets.
Despite excoriating the U.S. Marshals Service for overspending on employee “swag,” the Justice Department’s inspector general has never released a report on the excessive cost growth of the Attorney General Awards Ceremony. Agencies must prove that awards are both essential to their mission and reasonably priced or face censure by the internal watchdog.
A spokesman for the Justice Department’s inspector general told The Daily Caller News Foundation they have not investigated excessive Attorney General Awards Ceremony spending.
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