JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State agencies spent $10.6 million for employee meals at a variety of events over a span of two years, including lunches and retirement parties, a state audit said.
While there is no comprehensive food policy for most state agencies, the report by State Auditor Claire McCaskill said food expenditures were inconsistent and sometimes excessive.
"Considering the extent of agency-provided food expenditures, it appears the state should develop comprehensive policies regarding food purchases in an effort to control and reduce expenditures in this area," the audit said.
McCaskill scheduled a news conference today at the Capitol to discuss the audit but told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that the costs were a concern.
"What you have here is an absence of clear direction and clear policies as to what is appropriate and acceptable in spending tax dollars on food for state employees," McCaskill said. "I think in fairness, some of these agencies have been very reasonable, but clearly some have not."
The Office and Administration, which oversees agency reporting costs, said it would review its policies.
Education spent most
The audit found that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spent the most on meals of the 25 state agencies reviewed for the two years previous to June 30, 2000.
The department spent $1.2 million on meals in fiscal 1999 and $1.4 million in fiscal 2000, the audit found. The Department of Social Services spent $1.1 million in 1999 and $924,000 in 2000.
Meanwhile, the auditor's office spent $2,552 on food in 1999 and $4,207 in 2000, the audit showed.
The audit said state regulations are too vague for meals purchased by state agencies.
"As a result, agency officials are given much discretion in determining the nature and extent of agency-provided food expenditures," the audit said. "Because the state lacks comprehensive food expenditure policies, there is a lack of consistency among agencies as to what they consider appropriate food expenditures, how much should be allowed, or how it should be documented."
$4,100 for steak dinner
In some cases, state officials paid $19 per person for breakfasts, $25 per person for lunch and $32 per person for agency-sponsored events.
The Office of Public Defender paid more than $80,000 to a Lake of the Ozarks resort in January 2000 for a workshop. The costs included more than $4,100 for a steak dinner and more than $6,500 for an afternoon dessert event.
State employees also were fed during training sessions. For example, the Department of Transportation spent more than $2,835 on food at a Lake of the Ozarks resort for meals in April 2000.
"It is sometimes necessary to incur food expenditures related to employee training," the audit said. "However, such instances should be infrequent and costs should be kept at a minimum."
Some of the largest meal costs occurred at events designed to promote Missouri, including receptions at national conventions.