Tax­pay­ers are stuck with bu­reau­crats’ stiff liquor tab

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Months af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama urged fed­eral agen­cies last year to cut waste­ful spending, the U.S. Depart­ment of State paid $3,814 to fill an or­der of Jack Daniel’s whiskey for gratuities at one of its many over­seas em­bassies. The booze buy wasn’t un­usual. Last year alone, the State Depart­ment sent tax­pay­ers tabs to­tal­ing nearly $300,000 for al­co­holic bev­er­ages — about twice as much com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of spending records by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The pur­chases, small and large, in­cluded $2,483 to pay for “as­sorted spir­its for gratuities to ven­dors” at the U.S. mis­sion to the United Na­tions in New York, and $9,501 in “Christ­mas gratuities” of whiskey and wine at the U.S. Em­bassy in South Korea.

Tax­payer watch­dogs say while ac­count­ing for a small frac­tion of the State Depart­ment’s over­all bud­get, some of the liquor ex­pen­di­tures re­flect larger con­cerns about stew­ard­ship of fed­eral tax dol­lars at a time when many re­ces­sion-weary Amer­i­cans find them­selves strug­gling to hold onto jobs and pay mortgages.

“It’s in­dica­tive of the dis­con­nect that bu­reau­crats have when they spend our money,” said David Wil­liams, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy at the non­par­ti­san Cit­i­zens Against Gov­ern­ment Waste.

State Depart­ment spokesman Noel Clay said such ex­pen­di­tures are per­mit­ted un­der law.

“As part of the depart­ment’s work in rep­re­sent­ing the United States and its in­ter­ests here and abroad, U.S. of­fi­cials may hold re­cep­tions and rep­re­sen­ta­tional events,” he said.

“By law, the sec­re­tary of state may pro­vide for such re­cep­tions and may pay en­ter­tain­ment and rep­re­sen­ta­tional ex­penses to en- able the Depart­ment of State and for­eign ser­vice to pro­vide for the proper rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the United States and its in­ter­ests,” he said.

Mr. Clay also added, “Al­co­hol is not served at all rep­re­sen­ta­tional events or of­fi­cial re­cep­tions.”

The rise in al­co­hol spending could be at­trib­uted to the in­creas­ing num­ber of of­fi­cial re­cep­tions that U.S. diplo­mats might have held af­ter the pres­i­den­tial inau­gu­ra­tion and changeover in ad­min­is­tra­tions. But while much of the money paid for “rep­re­sen­ta­tional ac­tiv­i­ties,” dozens of other pur­chases in re­cent years — dur­ing both the Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions — went to pay for what spending records de­scribe as gratuities.

The U.S. Em­bassy in Ger­many, for in­stance, spent $555 in De­cem­ber on gratuities that in­cluded 15 bot­tles of Jim Beam bour­bon and three dozen cof­fee mugs. In a coun­try well-known for mak­ing fine beers, the U.S. Em­bassy in Bel­gium paid more than $5,000 by opt­ing for “red and white wine for Christ­mas gratuities,” records show.

The U.S. Con­sulate in St. Peters­burg spent $7,160 on al­co­holic bev­er­ages for “gratuities for lo­cal con­tacts,” while the U.S. Em­bassy in Greece last year spent more than $20,000 for “rep­re­sen­ta­tional liquors for Christ­mas gratuities.”

Other al­co­hol ex­pen­di­tures as de­scribed in pur­chas­ing records in­clude:

$7,554 by the U.S. Em­bassy in In­dia in Septem­ber 2008 for a “sup­ply of al­co­holic bev­er­ages for gratuities.”

$3,814 by the U.S. Em­bassy in Slove­nia last year for “Gratuities: Whiskey Jack Daniel’s.”

$2,966 by the U.S. Mis­sion to the United Na­tions in New York for 106 bot­tles of Schrams­berg Blanc de Blanc wine at $27.99 per bot­tle for of­fi­cial events.

$41.98, also by the U.S. Mis­sion to the United Na­tions, for “pur­chase of two one-liter bot­tles of Jose Cuervo Cla­sico Sil­ver

“It’s in­dica­tive of the dis­con­nect that bu­reau­crats have when they spend our money,” said David Wil­liams, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy at the non­par­ti­san Cit­i­zens Against Gov­ern­ment Waste.

Te­quila for of­fi­cial events at the U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s res­i­dence.”

Not all em­bassies bill tax­pay­ers for liquor when they de­cide to spend tax­payer money on gratuities, spending records show.

The U.S. Em­bassy in Costa Rica bought “laser pens with USB drive,” doc­u­ments show. The em­bassy in Sara­jevo bought chocolate gift boxes from the Ghi­rardelli Chocolate Co., while the em­bassy in Botswana bought mugs.

Within the United States, dozens of the liquor pur­chases in re­cent years were made for the U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the United Na­tions at an es­tab­lish­ment in New York City called Sue­bob Liquors Inc. Since 2005, the State Depart­ment has spent more than $50,000 at the store, with pur­chases av­er­ag­ing a lit­tle over $1,000, records show.

“We have good prices and good ser­vice,” Bob Mann, an as­sis­tant man­ager at the store, said when asked why the State Depart­ment seems to pre­fer the store. He also said the store han­dles cor­po­rate ac­counts and de­liv­ers.

Mr. Clay said be­cause the Sue­bob pur­chases are so low, the State Depart­ment doesn’t have to seek other bid­ders: “If the pur­chase is un­der $3,000, fed­eral ac­qui­si­tion reg­u­la­tion says that it does not have to be com­pet­i­tively bid,” he said.

The Times’ re­view of pur­chas­ing records ex­am­ined all ex­pen­di­tures listed un­der a spe­cific prod­uct ser­vices code for “al­co­holic bev­er­ages” con­tained in a fed­eral spending data­base. The find­ings showed that pur­chases rose from $139,657 in 2008 to $294,639 last year.

Al­co­hol-re­lated pur­chases to­taled around $160,000 each in 2006 and 2007, down from $216,430 in 2005. That was up from $64,280 in 2004.

Since 2004, records show al­co­hol pur­chases at the State Depart­ment a lit­tle more than $1 mil­lion.

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