How Muffingate Hurts Your Community

Posted on July 23, 2012 by


Atttendees at the 2012 NIJ conference were offered… water. And freezing cold meeting rooms. Image: CrimeDime

Conspicuously absent from all of the Muffingate coverage was a basic understanding of how hotel conference costs work. Hotels negotiate Package deals that typically include room blocks, catering, and meeting room space. Paying for these features a la carte is just not done.

So when Laurie Robinson handed down the food and beverage prohibition, agencies had to scramble to renegotiate complex conference contracts with hotels. You can’t just say, “oh, no thanks, we’ll skip the muffins this time.” Some agencies wound up canceling their events and paid thousands of dollars in hefty cancelation fees that went directly to hotels for no goods or services in return.

But Muffingate’s persistent insidiousness play out in other ways as well. Muffingate means no food at DOJ funded conferences. And no beverages, either. Well, to be fair, water in pitchers or coolers is allowed, but certainly not in bottles.

Now, I’m not arguing that attendees should be entitled to upscale lunches and open bar soirees. But I do think that minimal snack and beverages service is not just acceptable, but essential to hosting successful events.

While genuine scandals like the GAO bacchanalia in Las Vegas involve conferences held for federal employees, the DOJ events are for generally for other kinds of people. Your local cops. Local victim service providers. Local court personnel. On the whole, their salaries are small, and their travel and training budgets are largely nonexistent.

The people who show up at these DOJ funded events are often off the clock, but present because they are hungry for the information. Many of them have paid the travel costs out of their own pockets. Many of the cops have just come off the night shift and can barely keep their eyes open.

We already ask too much of our criminal justice practitioners and allied professionals, with inadequate compensation and inconsistent recognition.

Is a cup of hot coffee for these people an extravagance?

And even if you think that the expectation of a cup of joe is an outrage – are you really happier paying hotels the same amount of money for less in return? Because conference costs haven’t actually gone down. If you skip the java and bagels, the hotel just charges you more for the use of the room. And, no, you parsimonious children of The Great Depression, you can’t compromise with a quick trip to Costco to pick up a few dozen donuts of your own. The hotels prohibit that because they want to sell you their own food service.

Muffingate hurts your community by making it even more difficult for professionals to attend, using up the same amount of taxpayer funds for less in return, and detracting from the success of training and conference events.


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