Federal agencies have considerable discretion in providing food and beverages during a government-sponsored conference. According to the FTR, agencies may provide light refreshments to employees attending conferences. Light refreshments include coffee, tea, milk, juice, soft drinks, donuts, bagels, fruit, pretzels, cookies, chips, or muffins.43 The Training Act also permits federal agencies to pay for necessary costs of training, which can include food and beverages at conferences that relate to functions or activities for which they receive funding.44 In interpreting the Training Act, the GAO identified three circumstances where federal agencies may provide food and beverages to conference attendees.
The provided meals and refreshments are incidental to the conference;
Attendance at functions where food and refreshments are provided is necessary to ensure full participation in essential discussions, lectures, or speeches concerning the purpose of the conference; and
The meals and refreshments are part of the formal conference that includes substantial functions occurring separately from when the food is served.
Although the Training Act focuses on costs related to training federal employees, conferences may involve non-federal employees. In a March 2005 decision, the GAO stated that the identity or status of the food and beverage recipient should not change the character of the expense from allowable to unallowable.45 As a result, the three circumstances necessary to provide food and beverages to federal employees should be the same for a federally funded conference involving private citizens whose participation is necessary to achieve the conference’s program or objective.
According to the OJP Financial Guide, Chapter 7, expenses incurred for food and beverages provided at OJP-financed events should be: (1) reasonable, (2) related to the subject of a work-related event, and (3) not directly related to amusement or social events.46
For the 10 conferences we reviewed, DOJ components collectively spent over $1.5 million on food and beverages, which represents approximately one quarter of the $6.2 million spent to plan and host the conferences. To review food and beverage costs, we selected the four conferences identified in Table 6-1.47
REVIEWED FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS
|Conference|| Food and
| Number of
|Weed and Seed Conference||394,008||1,542||42|
|COPS National Conference||274,546||1,437||33|
|FBI Polygraph Conference||7,468||98||59|
|FBI Cambodia Conference||4,219||46||45|
|Source: OIG analysis of conference financial records|
Of the four selected conferences, the Weed and Seed Conference and the COPS National Conference were attended primarily by non-DOJ employees, while FBI employees constituted the majority of attendees at both of its conferences. To review the amount and cost of food and beverages served at each conference, we identified the list price of the items and calculated the actual price charged by the venue, which included applicable taxes and service charges paid for each menu item. We also examined the purpose of the functions where food and beverages were provided, and whether food and beverage costs incurred were in compliance with applicable rules and regulations.
Weed and Seed Conference
As part of its Weed and Seed program, CCDO has held national conferences for program partners approximately every other year since 1994.48 Focusing on subjects like re-entry programs for released inmates, effective law enforcement strategies, and improving community relations, 1,542 community representatives, law enforcement officials, and local, state, and federal prosecutors registered to attend for the August 2005 conference, which was held at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
OJP and CCDO hired an event planning company to provide logistical support for the conference. As detailed in Chapter 4, CCDO told us that the Bonaventure was selected as the venue for the conference because a private travel bureau reported that it was the only hotel in the Los Angeles area that could accommodate the large number of people attending the event. Since the Bonaventure was pre-selected by OJP and CCDO officials, the event planner worked with the hotel to provide the meals and refreshments for the conference.
CCDO spent $394,008 to provide 4,600 continental breakfasts, 2,987 lunches, 6,225 snack items, 22,723 beverages, and a $60,000-themed networking reception for the 1,500 attendees and staffers. As shown in Table 6-2, the $394,008 cost included the menu price (list price), a 20 percent service charge the Bonaventure applied to the list price, and an 8.25 percent California and locality sales tax that was applied to the subtotaled list price and service charge.49
WEED AND SEED CONFERENCE FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS
August 22 to 25, 2005
| List Price
| Paid Price
Total Cost *
|Deli Lunch Buffets||45||29.00||37.67||1,695|
|Working Groups Lunch Buffets||120||41.00||53.26||6,391|
|CCDO Staff Meeting Lunches||30||34.00||44.16||1,325|
|Cookies and Brownies||3,804||2.67||3.47||13,199|
|Bags of Chips||2,280||2.50||3.25||7,410|
|1 Large Fruit Display||50 Servings||3.90||5.06||253|
|1 Small Fruit Display||15 Servings||3.33||4.33||65|
|CCDO Staff Meeting Snacks||30||19.00||24.68||740|
|Cups of Columbian Coffee||15,520||2.15||2.79||43,301|
|Bottles of Water||4,304||3.75||4.87||20,960|
|Cans of Soda||2,872||3.50||4.55||13,067|
|CCDO Staff Meeting Soft Drinks||27||3.25||4.22||114|
|“Stars and Stripes” Networking Reception||1,000||41.00||53.26||53,260|
|3 Cheese Trays||300 Servings||4.40||5.72||1,716|
|3 Vegetable Trays||300 Servings||3.65||4.74||1,422|
|6 California Roll Trays||300 Pieces||7.30||9.48||2,844|
|6 Roasted Vegetable Wrap Trays||300 Pieces||3.30||4.29||1,287|
|Source: OIG analysis of component and external party planner documents
* Figures adjusted to account for rounding due to a 20-percent service charge and sales taxes
applied to individual receipts.
Applying the total $394,008 cost to each of the 1,542 conference registrants, CCDO spent an average of $256 per person, or $64 per day, on food and beverages. The average conference attendee received four breakfasts, two lunches, one reception, and an assortment of light refreshments over the four days of the conference. For comparison purposes, the GSA meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) rate for Los Angeles for August 2005 was $51 per day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.50
According to CCDO officials, the conference’s packed agenda required them to provide meals and refreshments to attendees. The dozens of breakout sessions, learning labs, and working groups that addressed different types of community development and outreach efforts meant that CCDO had limited opportunities to address all conference attendees. Therefore, CCDO decided to host two lunches and a networking reception during the 4-day conference. CCDO officials said they used these two “working lunches” to present honor awards to outstanding Weed and Seed program partner sites, while the networking reception featured poster and video awards. CCDO officials also told us that the awards ceremonies at lunch and the reception gave them a chance to highlight the attributes that made each partner site exemplary.
We discussed the $394,008 cost of food and beverages with CCDO officials and the event planner. T he event planner told us that it is well known that food and beverage charges at hotels in large cities are “often shocking.” We asked whether the event planner considered less expensive catering solutions for the conference other than those provided by the hotel. The event planner told us that when an event such as the Weed and Seed Conference takes place at a hotel, the hotel does not allow outside caterers to use their facilities. Consequently, since OJP chose the Bonaventure Hotel as the Weed and Seed Conference’s venue, the event planner had to use the hotel’s caterer for the event.
The event planner stated that food and beverage costs can be used as leverage to obtain better deals with hotels when negotiating their hosting contracts. For the Weed and Seed Conference, the event planner said that in light of the amount of food and beverages, the hotel offered lodging for attendees and conference meeting facilities at either reduced rates or no cost. Since the meeting facilities and lodging were acquired at reduced rates, the event planner said that the food and beverage cost appears to constitute a disproportionate percentage of the planning and hosting cost.
In an effort to mitigate food and beverage charges, the Weed and Seed event planner told us that it chose among the least expensive items on the hotel menu. We reviewed the hotel’s catering menu and confirmed that the event planner selected lower-priced or mid-range menu options to serve during the conference’s two lunch sessions. While typical of food and catering prices observed at large hotels, many of the items served during the Weed and Seed Conference were costly and appear extravagant. The following highlights the food and beverages served at three of the conference events.
$53-Per-Person Lunch Buffet
On the last day of the conference, CCDO invited 120 members of the Strategy Development Training and Indian Country Working Groups (Working Groups) to a workshop that featured a lunch buffet costing over $6,000. With a list price of $41 per person, the lunch buffet cost more than any of the other lunches provided to conference attendees. Service charges and applicable sales taxes increased the actual price of the Working Group lunch buffet from $41 to over $53 per person. The hotel’s catering menu shows that each member of these Working Groups was served a choice of soups, a salad bar, one chicken entrée, one beef entrée, and two desserts. Figure 6-A details the lunch buffet menu.
WORKING GROUP LUNCH BUFFET
|Source: Bonaventure Catering Menu, 2005|
After the first full day of the conference, CCDO hosted a networking reception and spent over $60,000 on food and beverages for Weed and Seed Conference attendees, as shown in Table 6-3.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS OF
WEED AND SEED NETWORKING RECEPTION
August 23, 2005
|Item Description||List Price ($)||Number Purchased||Total Cost ($)|
|“Stars and Stripes” Themed Reception||41.00||1,000||41,000|
|Large Cheese Tray||440.00||3||1,320|
|Large Vegetable Crudités Display||365.00||3||1,095|
|California Roll, Soy Sauce, and Pickled Ginger Trays||365.00||6||2,190|
|Roasted Vegetable Wrap Trays||165.00||6||990|
|Bottles of Water||3.75||618||2,318|
|Service Charge (20%)||9,782|
|Source: OIG analysis of CCDO and external party planner documents|
According to the conference program, the networking reception featured a speech on community and private industry partnership by an executive from the Los Angeles Dodgers professional baseball team. CCDO also used the 1-hour event to present awards for videos produced by program partner sites and to announce Weed and Seed poster contest winners. The event planner told us that food and beverages were purchased for 1,000 of the nearly 1,500 conference attendees in an effort to save funds and because not every conference attendee was expected to attend the reception.
Figure 6-B lists the types of food and beverages served at the CCDO’s Weed and Seed networking reception.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES PROVIDED
AT WEED AND SEED NETWORKING RECEPTION
|Source: Bonaventure Catering Menu, 2005|
In addition to the above reception food items, 300 servings each of cheeses, California rolls, vegetable crudités, and roasted vegetable wraps were provided to the reception’s attendees.
Although the FTR allows agencies to serve light refreshments at conference events, we believe that the volume and type of food and beverages served at the reception does not appear appropriate. As previously discussed, OJP food and beverage policies prohibit food and beverage expenses for amusement or social events. CCDO officials told us that the reception provided essential information-sharing opportunities concerning the overall purpose of the conference. However, serving items associated with state fairs and amusement parks, such as cotton candy, popcorn, caramel apples, ice cream, and licorice, invariably increases the likelihood that the reception would be considered a social event by attendees rather than directly related to the objectives of the Weed and Seed Program.
CCDO Staff Meeting
On the afternoon of the last day of the conference, CCDO held a staff meeting for 30 of its employees at the nearby Millennium Biltmore Hotel (Biltmore). Unlike the rest of the conference, which was attended primarily by representatives of Weed and Seed program grantees, this staff meeting was composed of only CCDO employees traveling on per diem. As part of this meeting, CCDO paid for its employees to be served a sandwich buffet lunch that cost $44 per person and a themed “at-the-movies” snack consisting of candy, popcorn, and soft drinks for about $25 per person. The food and beverage cost of the afternoon meeting totaled over $2,100 for the 30 participants, or $69 per staff member.
We asked CCDO officials why the staff meeting could not have been scheduled back in Washington, D.C., instead of while employees were in travel status. According to CCDO officials, conducting the staff meeting “off location” provided CCDO employees a chance to exchange perspectives of local Weed and Seed programs exhibited during the conference. A CCDO official also told us that the conference occurred after the busiest period of the CCDO work year, when staff had just spent months reviewing, evaluating, and awarding grants for the next fiscal year. According to CCDO officials, the timing of the conference, coupled with the fact that all employees were present, provided CCDO the best opportunity to have a staff meeting.
Following our review of event planner records, an official with OJP’s AMD contacted the event planner and obtained copies of the Weed and Seed Conference’s food and beverage invoices. We subsequently met with CCDO officials regarding the overall cost of the meals and refreshments provided to conference attendees. During this meeting, we inquired whether CCDO could have done anything to reduce the $394,008 cost of food and beverages served at the Weed and Seed Conference.
According to one CCDO official, the Weed and Seed Conference was the first large-scale event that this official had helped plan. Since the conference, this CCDO official stated that they have learned that contractors who plan events require different levels of interaction with and oversight from sponsoring component officials. For example, not all contractors are aware of the unique rules that apply to public funds.
Another official stated that since the August 2005 Weed and Seed Conference, CCDO reviews the way meals and breaks are provided to conference attendees. For example, a CCDO official said it now tries not to incur a service charge if wait staff are not required at an event. We asked whether these reviews are maintained at or submitted to a central office within OJP. We were told that no single office reviews food and beverage costs at OJP-sponsored events.
COPS National Conference
The 2006 COPS National Conference was held at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, D.C.51 Over 1,100 law enforcement officials, educators, and community representatives – including over 110 DOJ employees – attended the 3-day conference that focused on community policing law enforcement issues.
The $274,546 spent on food and beverages constituted a third of the total $823,105 hosting and planning cost of the conference. As shown in Table 6-4, a total of 1,350 lunches, 3,433 continental breakfasts, 5,884 beverages, a $60,000 networking reception, and two afternoon break sessions were provided to conference attendees. Applying the total food and beverage cost to each of the 1,102 conference attendees, COPS spent an average of $249 per person, or $83 per day, on just food and beverages. The average conference attendee received 2 breakfasts, a lunch, one reception, and an assortment of light refreshments over the 3 days of the conference. For comparison purposes, the GSA M&IE per diem rate for Washington, D.C. at the time was $64 per day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
BREAKDOWN OF COPS NATIONAL CONFERENCE
FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS
July 27 to 29, 2006
|Item Description||Number|| List Price
| Paid Price
|Cups of Coffee||4,560||3.09||3.64||16,598|
|Bottles of Water||781||3.80||4.48||3,499|
|Cans of Soda||543||3.80||4.48||2,433|
|Reception Staff Fee||8||300.00||300.00||2,400|
|Juice, Punch, Iced Tea||1,200||2.61||3.08||3,696|
|“The Big Chill” Themed Break||1,200||14.25||16.81||20,172|
|“At the Stadium” Themed Break||1,200||15.20||17.94||21,528|
|TOTAL FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS||$274,546 *|
|Source: OIG analysis of component and external party planner data
* Total includes rounded figures due to 18-percent service charge applied to all items.
Similar to our discussion of the food and beverages provided at the Weed and Seed Conference, some of the food and beverage costs associated with themed breaks and a networking reception at the COPS National Conference were so expensive that they may not be considered reasonable uses of appropriated funds. In addition, we found that the method used by COPS to pay for conference food and beverages resulted in unnecessary indirect costs.
Themed Break Sessions
Attendees were provided two themed afternoon breaks during the 3-day conference. As shown in Figure 6-C, the themed break menus included coffee, tea, and soft drinks and a variety of ice cream desserts, hot dogs, warm pretzels, and popcorn snacks.
COPS NATIONAL CONFERENCE THEMED BREAKS
| Thursday, July 27, 2006
3:15 to 3:45 PM
Note: “Attendants Required” means hotel staff (attendants) were required to serve themed break items.
| Friday, July 28, 2006
3:15 to 3:30 PM
|Source: Hilton Event Order Form|
Each themed break cost approximately $17 per person and together cost COPS nearly $42,000.
The conference also had a “networking reception” that cost more than $60,000, or $57 per attendee, for food and beverages. According to the conference’s agenda, the purpose of the reception was to provide attendees a “forum to network with [their] peers.” The reception contained six designated “topic areas” where attendees could meet and discuss: (1) Drugs and Crime, (2) School and Campus Safety, (3) Community Policing Training, (4) Homeland Security, (5) Anti-Gang Initiatives, and (6) Organizational Change. COPS provided experts on each topic. Attendees were also given bookmarks that listed relevant publications and resources for each designated topic. Figure 6-D shows that the networking reception featured chef-carved meats and penne pasta.
COPS NETWORKING RECEPTION
|Source: Hilton Event Order Form|
The reception also served conference attendees several hundred Swedish meatballs and miniature pastries. With applicable service charges, each meatball cost nearly $5, and each piece of pastry cost almost $6. The reception also included four different cash bars. Although attendees paid for their own alcoholic beverages, the conference paid a $300 fee for each attendant, which included a bartender and a cashier at each of the four stations, for an additional $2,400 to staff the four cash bars.
Financing Conference Food and Beverages
COPS awarded a $525,000 cooperative agreement to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to plan and support the conference. According to COPS officials, PERF was a member of the Community Policing Consortium (Consortium) and acted as its “prime grantee,” and therefore was responsible for administering contracts with other Consortium member organizations.
According to COPS officials, the Consortium served as a “convening body” with COPS since 1994 and helped to provide law enforcement training and technical assistance. The Consortium, disbanded in 2006, was comprised of five member organizations: PERF, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), the Police Foundation, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).
According to financial records provided by COPS, the projected budget for the conference was over $800,000, which far exceeded the amount of support provided by the $525,000 cooperative agreement. However, PERF documents note that Consortium members IACP and NSA received COPS awards for other projects prior to PERF’s $525,000 cooperative agreement. As shown in Table 6-5, COPS approved the IACP, the NSA, and the Police Foundation to use certain funds remaining in prior IACP and NSA awards to cover the conference’s food and beverage costs.
CONSORTIUM FOOD AND BEVERAGE PAYMENTS
|Consortium Member|| Amount Agreed To
Support for Food
and Beverages ($)
|International Association of Chiefs of Police||90,000|
|National Sheriffs’ Association||94,546|
|Source: COPS and Consortium conference planning documents|
Our review of the Consortium’s method to pay for food and beverages found that member organizations charged nearly $104,000 in indirect fees to pay the conference’s food and beverage bill.
We reviewed copies of checks and invoices of separate Consortium member organizations to determine how they transferred funds from different COPS awards to pay for the conference’s food and beverage costs. Although the Police Foundation was to provide $90,000 to finance food and beverages, the Police Foundation did not use its own grant funds to cover this expense. Instead, as shown in Figure 6-E, the IACP, NSA, and the Police Foundation issued five different checks, three made out to PERF as the prime grantee and two made out to the Police Foundation. After receiving one check each from the IACP and the NSA, the Police Foundation sent a check for $90,000 to PERF.
Source: OIG analysis of COPS and consortium documents
The convoluted process used by the consortium to pay food and beverage costs meant that the IACP paid a total of $167,000, the NSA paid $143,546, and Police Foundation received a total of $126,000 from the IACP and the NSA to only pay $90,000 to PERF as the prime grantee. The staggered payment process used by the consortium provided the Police Foundation with an extra $36,000 in IACP and NSA COPS awards.
Since the Consortium was not operational during our audit, we relied on COPS officials to explain why the IACP and NSA provided COPS funds to the Police Foundation instead of directly to the prime grantee, PERF, to pay for conference food and beverage costs. COPS officials offered records showing that the IACP and NSA established separate agreements with the Police Foundation to provide support staff for the COPS National Conference. Although these agreements may demonstrate that the Police Foundation had a role in supporting the conference, they do not address the Police Foundation’s role in paying food and beverage costs.
In addition to the $36,000 received by the Police Foundation, we found that the IACP and the NSA also charged indirect costs to COPS awards resulting from the four checks used to pay food and beverage costs.52 Using approved budgets and COPS award drawdown activity, we calculated the amount of indirect charges applied by the IACP and the NSA for each check written to finance conference food and beverages, as shown in Table 6-6.
INDIRECT COSTS TO PAY FOR COPS
NATIONAL CONFERENCE FOOD AND BEVERAGES
|Check 1||Police Foundation||77,000||0*||77,000|
|Check 3||Police Foundation||49,000||7,731||56,731|
| Sources: OIG analysis of award drawdown information and COPS documents |
* Using drawdown figures, the IACP did not appear to charge indirect rates to the $77,000 check
sent to the Police Foundation.
Although indirect cost rates charged by the IACP and the NSA to their respective awards complied with indirect cost rates approved by COPS, these organizations drew down $378,439 from their respective COPS awards and issued four checks totaling only $310,546.53 In effect, it appears as though the IACP and NSA charged COPS a total of $67,893 to issue the four checks which were ultimately used by PERF to pay the food and beverage bill.
We asked COPS officials if funds could have been reprogrammed out of the award and transferred directly to PERF, which as the Consortium’s prime grantee for the conference, was responsible for administering contracts. COPS told us that its appropriation prohibits reprogramming prior fiscal year award balances to fund current activities. Consequently, the only way COPS believed it could finance the conference with prior year awards provided to consortium members was to have the consortium members themselves issue checks from their respective COPS awards. Since these organizations were actually the ones financing the consortium, they could then charge approved indirect cost rates against their award.
We reviewed COPS appropriation legislation for FY 2005, the year in which the funds were provided to award the $525,000 cooperative agreement to the consortium.54 The legislation prohibits COPS from reprogramming prior year funds “unless the Appropriations Committees of both Houses of Congress are notified 15 days in advance of such reprogramming of funds.” According to COPS officials, this provision prevented them from reprogramming the funds remaining in the accounts of consortium members from prior fiscal years to FY 2006 to pay for the conference. However, nothing in the law prohibited COPS from reprogramming FY 2005 funding. Rather, the cited legislation merely required COPS to provide the requisite notice to Congress before doing so.
Considering both the total $67,893 charged by the IACP and the NSA and the $36,000 extra received by the Police Foundation, we believe that COPS could have achieved a savings of nearly $104,000 by reprogramming funds to PERF. COPS should have notified Congress about its plan to transfer prior fiscal year funds, thereby eliminating the indirect costs charged by consortium member organizations.
FBI Polygraph Conference
Each year, the FBI’s Security Division sponsors a week-long polygraph training conference. The 2005 Polygraph Conference was held at the Marriott City Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was attended by nearly 100 polygraph examiners and staff. As an internal training conference, the Polygraph Conference was attended solely by federal employees in contrast to the externally oriented conferences sponsored by CCDO and COPS. During the conference, the Security Division provided light refreshments and no full meals to attendees.
As shown in Table 6-7, food and refreshments provided at the conference included bagels, muffins, cookies, soda, tea, coffee, and juices totaling $7,468, or $15 per attendee per day.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS AT THE
FBI POLYGRAPH CONFERENCE
June 26 to July 1, 2005
|Item Description||Number|| List Price
|Cups of Coffee||960||1.80||2.38||2,284|
|Bottles of Water||60||2.25||2.97||178|
|Cans of Soda||183||2.25||2.97||543|
|Juice, Punch, Iced Tea||190||2.75||3.63||689|
|TOTAL FOOD AND BEVERAGE COSTS||$7,468|
| Source: OIG analysis of FBI conference documents |
* Figures adjusted to account for rounding due to service charge and sales taxes
applied to individual items.
FBI Cambodia Conference
In March 2006, 46 legal attachés and other federal officials attended the FBI Cambodia Conference in Phnom Penh. Similar to the FBI Polygraph Conference, the Cambodia Conference was an internal training event oriented primarily to a federal audience. The FBI’s Office of International Operations (OIO) arranged to have a hotel provide beverages and light snacks to conference attendees. OIO hosted a “welcome reception” for the attendees on the first day and a “liaison dinner” for attendees and high-level representatives from the Cambodian National Police (CNP) at a restaurant in Phnom Penh. The OIO also paid for a conference meeting at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador as detailed in Table 6-8.
BREAKDOWN OF FOOD AND BEVERAGE
COSTS AT THE FBI CAMBODIA CONFERENCE
March 12 to 17, 2006
| Total Cost
|Welcome Reception Food Items||36||25.00||900|
|Welcome Reception Drinks||36||11.00||396|
|Welcome Reception Subtotal||$1,646|
|U.S. Embassy Breaks|
|CNP Liaison Dinner|
|CNP Liaison Dinner Subtotal||$1,483|
|FOOD AND BEVERAGE TOTAL||$4,219|
|Source: OIG analysis of component data|
At the time of the FBI Cambodia Conference, the M&IE per diem rate for Phnom Penh was $72 per person. Using the figures shown in Table 6-8, the welcome reception cost about $42 per attendee, and the liaison dinner cost $21 per person. We asked the FBI for an explanation why these functions were part of its Cambodia Conference. FBI officials said that the conference’s welcome reception was used to provide attendees an opportunity to meet presenters from the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency. According to an OIO official, the liaison dinner served to both foster cooperation between the FBI and the CNP and discuss common regional law enforcement opportunities.
According to 5 U.S.C. § 5702 (2006), federal agencies may use appropriated funds to pay subsistence costs of employees traveling on official business. To implement this rule, GSA annually establishes M&IE per diem rates to compensate federal employees on travel status the cost of meals during official travel. According to the FTR, federal travelers must adjust their per diem M&IE reimbursement requests to deduct for meals furnished by the government during an official function, such as a government-sponsored conference.
Accordingly, the FTR provides a pre-determined amount that a traveler should deduct for each meal provided by the government. We selected a judgmental sample of 253 travel vouchers submitted by DOJ employees who attended the reviewed conferences to see if appropriate deductions were made for each meal provided by the government. As shown in Table 6-9, the amount that a federal traveler should deduct when provided a meal by the government depends on the total amount of the daily M&IE reimbursement rate.55
M&IE DEDUCTIONS FOR MEALS PROVIDED AT
|For FY 2005:|
|Deductions per provided meal:|
|For FY 2006:|
|Deductions per provided meal:|
|Source: FTR § 301-11.18 and GSA Web site|
For example, government employees attending the FY 2005 OVC National Symposium were permitted $43 per day for M&IE. During the 5-day conference, each attendee was provided 5 breakfasts ($9 times 5 days or $45), a working lunch ($9), and a dinner ($22). Therefore, the total proper per diem deduction in a federal employee’s reimbursement request for the entire event would be $76.
Table 6-10 shows the results of our travel voucher review. We analyzed vouchers to determine whether the M&IE reimbursement was adjusted to reflect meals provided at 8 of the 10 reviewed conferences.56 Of the 253 vouchers examined, we found that 62 properly deducted meals, 41 deducted some but not all meals, while 150 failed to deduct any meals at all.
DOJ TRAVEL VOUCHER TESTING RESULTS
|Conference Name|| Number
| All Meals
| Some Meals
| No Meals
|OVC National Symposium||54||1||11||42|
|Weed and Seed Conference||22||2||13||7|
|NIJ Technology Conference||13||0||3||10|
|FBI Cambodia Conference||9||6||0||3|
|PSN National Conference||94||52||2||40|
|COPS National Conference||2||0||0||2|
|FBI ITEC Conference||27||1||0||26|
|CCDO LEC Conference||32||0||12||20|
|Source: OIG analysis of component vouchers|
When federal attendees do not deduct meals provided at government expense, and when component managers do not systematically review vouchers to ensure that such deductions are made, the government effectively pays for the meal twice, once when the meal is provided at the conference and again when employees receive reimbursement based on the submitted charges in their travel voucher.
Federal agencies have considerable discretion in how much they choose to spend on food and beverages for a conference. Both the Weed and Seed Conference and COPS National Conference used hotel catering services to provide costly food and beverage items to conference attendees. While the price of the food and beverages may have been standard and allowable – especially considering that large hotels served as venues for the events – the sheer volume of food and beverages purchased resulted in CCDO and COPS spending, respectively, an average of $64 and $83 on food and beverages each day for each person. For comparison purposes, the GSA M&IE rate for the Weed and Seed Conference was only $51 per day, while the M&IE for the COPS National Conference’s was $64.
For example, the Weed and Seed Conference spent $60,000 on cotton candy, popcorn, caramel apples, ice cream, and licorice for a reception held to announce video and poster award winners. We believe that serving such items at an event gives the appearance that the reception was intended more for social rather than purposes directly related to the objectives of the Weed and Seed Program. Similarly, the COPS National Conference’s networking reception cost $60,000 and featured four cash bar stations, carved beef and turkey, and penne pasta.
During our review of food and beverage costs, we examined planning files and found no written evidence explaining or expressly justifying the need to offer conference attendees full meals and networking receptions. Although OJP has developed its own policy regarding the proper provision of food and beverages at its conferences, we were not provided with evidence that any mechanism exists within OJP to ensure that its food and beverage rules are consistently followed or even provided to contracted conference planners.
In addition, our examination of DOJ travel vouchers showed that more than 75 percent of the vouchers examined claimed reimbursement for the cost of meals provided to them at government expense at these conferences. When DOJ attendees do not deduct such meals, the government effectively pays for the same meal twice. The high rate of improper meal deduction evidenced by our sample shows that adequate controls have not been implemented to ensure that employees who prepare and managers who review travel vouchers deduct the appropriate cost of government provided meals from the M&IE rate.
We believe that federal conference planners have a responsibility to critically assess and specifically justify serving food and beverages at conference’s paid for by public funds. To carry out this responsibility, DOJ conference planners require clear and consistent guidelines to use when planning conferences where food and beverages will be served. Since appropriated monies are used to pay for food and beverage costs of attendees, we believe that these guidelines should provide oversight of and procedures for justifying such costs.
We recommend that JMD:
Develop and implement general food and beverage policies that DOJ conference planners can use when planning events.
Instruct DOJ component Chief Financial Officers to develop and implement procedures that ensure employees deduct the appropriate amount from the M&IE rate for government-provided meals from their submitted travel vouchers.
Ensure components that sponsor conferences with costly food and beverages develop a mechanism to adequately document reasons and approval for food and beverage costs.
We recommend that OJP:
Develop procedures that ensure compliance with existing policies governing the reasonableness of conference food and beverage costs.
We recommend that COPS:
Develop procedures that ensure compliance with existing policies governing the reasonableness of conference food and beverage costs.
Develop and implement policies to reprogram unused award funds in ways that mitigate unnecessary indirect costs.
Account for the $103,893 in COPS award funds passed to a consortium member organization to pay for food and beverage costs at the 2006 COPS National Conference.
According to the OJP Financial Guide, “reasonable” means those costs that a prudent person would have incurred under the circumstances prevailing at the time the decision to incur the cost was made. The Guide specifies costs that should be considered when making judgments about reasonableness including the cost of food and beverage, total cost of the event, and costs incurred relative to costs in the geographical area. The exception of this definition is lodging costs for events of 30 or more participants, when the event is funded with an OJP award. For these events, reasonable is defined as the federal per diem rate for lodging.
Although the federal government is exempt from local taxes on direct payments, the contractor paid the hotel directly and was therefore assessed the sales tax on all goods, rents, and services provided.
Since these indirect and overhead amounts were paid for with COPS funds in support of the conference, we consider these indirect costs charged by consortium members to be part of the conference’s overall cost.
In addition to meal costs, the M&IE reimbursement rate also includes a set amount for “incidentals” expenses that a federal traveler can claim each day. For FY 2006, this incidentals expense was $3 per day.
Two of the 10 conferences were not included in our meal deduction analysis. The FBI Polygraph Conference did not provide meals to its conference attendees, and attendees at the OJJDP National Conference, held in Washington, D.C., were not on conference-related travel.