NASA pays sky-high $66 a person for seminar snacks

Mar 25, 2010 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
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(AP) -- The nation's space agency paid the out-of-this-world price of $66 a person a day for bagels, cookies and juice at a conference, a new report found.

The subject of the conference? It was a training session for its procurement officials - the people who do the buying with taxpayer funds.

During the three-day conference, the 317 attendees snacked on "light refreshments" of soda, coffee, fruit, bagels and cookies at a cost of $62,611, according to a NASA Inspector General report. That's $66 a day per person.

And that wasn't the only problem. The NASA financial watchdog criticized the financially strapped space agency's spending on conferences in general. The inspector general said NASA didn't price shop to get cheaper locations for conferences and that NASA's spending on food and drinks was "excessive."

The agency needs to come up with firm rules and conference costs, like the , the inspector general recommended in the report released late Wednesday.

NASA promised it would come up with better conference spending rules.

The training conference in December 2008 at a Hilton hotel in Baltimore took the cake for most expensive per person of the eight conferences examined. The conference cost NASA a total of $495,173 for 317 people, a cost of more than $1,500 per person. But the eye-opener was the coffee and costs.

Another conference, on aeronautics in Atlanta, spent $535,149 for 650 people. NASA provided some meals for all attendees at a cost of $58,415. NASA could have saved nearly $50,000 if the agency gave per diem money to just NASA employees and contractors - instead of everyone attending - and told them to buy their own meals for the three days, the inspector general said.

When asked why NASA spends so much on snacks, a NASA spokesman referred to the agency's response in the report, which didn't explain the costs but promised to do better. In that response, NASA deputy Terry Bowie defended the practice of buying snacks at conferences, saying it would keep attendees from wandering away. But Bowie said next month NASA will define "reasonable cost limits" for snacks at conferences.

And what's reasonable?

That happened to be the topic of a session at the Baltimore conference - how to determine a reasonable price.

"These are people who should have known better in the first place," said Tom Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. "This is the lesson that should have been learned before the conference, not during or after."

Explore further: NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

More information: The NASA Inspector General's report: http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY10/IG-10-009.pdf

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User comments : 8

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physpuppy
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
Irony? Procurement discussing limiting costs and paying way too much for the meeting?

Maybe the snacks were rated to go into space? Tools and stuff that go into space costing seemingly unreasonable prices because of specifications - special materials, testing and so on.

But the example provided - even in a fancy hotel - $66 for bagels etc per person? It didn't even include Maryland crab cakes - both delicious and pricey! Perhaps it was the billing, and the charge included something else not listed on the line item - like hall rental or other extras?

When asked why NASA spends so much on snacks...Terry Bowie defended the practice of buying snacks at conferences, saying it would keep attendees from wandering away


Sure, granted, food tends to sharpen attention spans. I thought Terry would say that NASA employees are just plain hungry.

Other locales are just as nice - why not hold it in a place more needy of the $, like New Orleans?
JayK
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
I'd like to see this same level of spending analysis done for the DoD.

Other locales are just as nice - why not hold it in a place more needy of the $, like New Orleans?

Kinda sortof ironic, but probably because of travel costs.
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
Next conference should be at a cheap hotel in Detroit
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2010
Yet another example of rampant spending within the halls of government funded entities. The intellect of people running government departments and monitoring fiscal spending is highly suspect.

Seriously, toss em a bag of doritos and a can of coke. A whole 6 bucks if you go all out and get them the family size bag.
antialias
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2010
Maybe the snacks were rated to go into space?

Maybe the snackees were rated to go into space. Preferrably the dark side of the moon with no return ticket.

Next conference should be at a cheap hotel in Detroit

Next conference should be a video-conference wit BYOB.
danman5000
5 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2010
How does this keep happening? Who sells $50 bagels? $500 hammers? It's like they really try to find deals this bad. Seriously, I could go around the corner to Sam's Club and buy enough food for 300 people for nowhere near that amount. I bet they sell a 300 pack of sodas there too :/
Royale
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
JayK brings up a great point. Because if you're shocked by this, taking a look at DoD spending will blow your head directly off your body. (Presumably someone from the DoD will need to steal your wallet to help pay for their 'much needed' activities).
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
DoD spending is a joke when compared to the largesse that is the government benefits system.

By that I don't mean medicare and other civil services, I mean the cost of the benefits that non-military government employees recieve in the form of pensions/healthcare/parking/transportation/salary, etc. It's utterly disgusting.

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