Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Thursday asked Attorney General Eric Holder to account for $58 million in Justice Department (DOJ) spending on conferences in 2012, saying the cost of the trips is too high.
Coburn included a 28-page spreadsheet of those 2012 conferences that cost more than $100,000.
“For example, DOJ’s conferences last year included nearly $500,000 for 30 DOJ employees to attend a conference in Indonesia, nearly $200,000 for just four DOJ employees to attend a seminar in Senegal, and more than $100,000 on a summit in Northern Mariana Islands that did not include a single DOJ attendee,” he wrote.
Coburn said the conference spending has continued into 2013, citing the Drug Enforcement Agency’s annual meeting in Moscow last week. The cost of the trip has not yet been revealed, but Coburn requested a detailed breakdown of staff attendees, airfare, lodging and per diem expenses, as well as other details.
Last year’s DEA conference in Indonesia cost more than $500,000.
DOJ spokeswoman Adora Andy Jenkins told The Hill in a statement that the agency “strives for cost-effective government and has implemented strict controls on conference spending and travel.”
The DOJ said it is reviewing Coburn’s letter and will respond accordingly, but defended the conferences he cites as important to national security and law enforcement training. Among the topics covered at the conventions are advanced counterintelligence techniques, weapons of mass destruction preparedness and response, human remains recovery, money laundering detection and prevention, and crime scene evidence photography.
In addition, the DOJ said conference spending had been reduced by more than $26 million since 2010.
The letter was sent on the same day that a Washington Post report revealed the U.S. government will spend an estimated $60 million to $100 million on an array of security and travel provisions for an Obama family trip to Africa later this month.
Both reports will likely add fuel to the perpetual budget battles between Congress and the White House, which earlier this year produced the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. The DOJ has said the cuts may require a reduction in law enforcement agents.
Coburn said the DOJ “should not be threatening to furlough law enforcement agents while … sending bureaucrats on international junkets.”
Jenkins said sequester cuts are already impacting DOJ spending.
“As the department deals with the damaging impacts of sequestration, we continue to make difficult choices to cut important contract spending and law enforcement training, as well as imposing a hiring freeze,” she said. “Unless Congress adopts a balanced deficit reduction plan and stops the additional destructive cuts currently slated for FY 2014, the Justice Department will have no choice but to furlough law enforcement agents, prosecutors, prison guards and other staff, reducing our ability to protect the American people, to safeguard vital programs and precious resources and to hold criminals accountable.”
Coburn said taxpayers expect government agencies will sometimes need to travel and meet in order to “share information and gather knowledge on pressing and pertinent issues to perform outreach in other countries,” but argued “in these fiscal times,” the “current jet-set culture at the department” was inappropriate.