Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wrote Attorney General Eric Holder to suggest that he end “the current jet-set culture” at the Justice Department (DOJ) rather than contemplate furloughing employees in the face of spending cuts required by sequestration.
“DOJ should not be threatening to furlough law enforcement agents while paying bonuses to recreation specialists for prisoners or sending bureaucrats on international junkets,” Coburn wrote today. “In FY 2012, DOJ spent more than $58 million on conferences. Such spending should be significantly reduced, especially during times of fiscal challenges.” DOJ arranged not to furlough employees this year — Coburn is looking ahead to next year if the spending isn’t raised above sequestration levels.
The Oklahoma lawmaker pointed out that DOJ has been ignoring congressional caps on their conference spending. “[T]he Senate approved an amendment to the FY 2008 appropriations bill to cap DOJ conference spending at $15 million,” he reminded Holder. “Still, DOJ spent $47.8 million in 2008 on conferences, more than three times the amount authorized by Congress. Conference spending at DOJ peaked in 2010, when the department spent more than $90 million on conferences.”
Among other things, Coburn focused on a conference in Russia that took place last week, despite the recent budget cuts. “None of the program details are on the department’s website, but according to a February listing on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the DEA planned to lease the Crowne Plaza Hotel and World Trade Center in Moscow, to provide the agency up to 340 rooms for lodging and a variety of meeting spaces,” Coburn wrote. “It is unclear what the total cost of the conference will be and what percentage of the joint conference for which DEA is responsible.” He asked Holder to break down the costs of the conference and reveal how many employees went to Moscow.
Other examples of wasteful spending include “nearly $500,000 for 30 DOJ employees to attend a conference in Indonesia, nearly $200,000 for just 4 DOJ employees to attend a seminar in Senegal, and more than $100,000 on a summit in the Northern Mariana Islands that did not include a single DOJ attendee,” according to the letter.