The now-infamous “muffin” meeting, organized by the Office on Violence Against Women, came to light as a result of a report by a Justice Department auditor. That report had a lot of good things to say about the meeting that the press and Sen. Reid have ignored. For example, in examining the meeting’s total expenses, the inspector general gave credit to the agency for saving money by not serving full meals at the five-day conference. The planner ordered far less (250-300 orders) than the actual attendance of 534 people, resulting in a $14.74 per person per day cost for beverages and light snacks. The report points out that this was a shocking two cents over the agency-established limit of $14.72! In my book, the meeting planner did an excellent job in controlling costs.
The auditor also noted in the report the common practice in the meetings industry of hotels waiving meeting room rental with a minimum food and beverage purchase. The report also goes on to say that there was no cost savings because the actual amount spent was $47,000 more than the minimum required food and beverage for free space. Most professional meetings planners would know of this practice and applaud the planner for an excellent job in negotiating the minimum far below what the actual spend would be, ensuring that meeting room rental would never come into play.
I am sure the hard working government auditor expended a significant amount of time on the audit and producing the 148-page report. Audits are necessary and I applaud the effort to reign in government spending and to make recommendations for effective cost control procedures. Surely there is room for improvement in controlling the cost of food and beverage items and in the process of bidding, contracting and reporting of outside meeting planning services. What the objective eye of an accountant could not capture merely by looking at banquet checks from hotel bills were other factors, such as whether it was more cost effective to bring people together in one location than other methods of training and whether the outcomes of those live sessions are more effective.
The response from the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women noted that the organizations participating in their meeting in question, “have a wealth of experience working with judges and on the subject matter and there is evidence of the harm that can come to victims when judges do not understand the complex dynamics of domestic violence. We have experienced over the years that judges learn best in person and from other judges, which is why this is an in person training.”
A study by the Convention Industry Council on the value of face-to-face meetings, found that they build trust and relationships. Education and training are more effective in a live setting, live meetings actually save time and money and live meetings result in a more effective exchange of ideas.
Before waving a $16 muffin at a camera, Senator Reid should look at the broader picture. Sometimes a muffin is just a muffin, and once again he’s bashing an industry that provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues to his own state.
Karen Kotowski, CEO, Convention Industry Council