KATV’s Elicia Dover reports:
One-third of all U.S. dollars are spent on eating out at restaurants, according to the USDA. Some of that money is coming out of your pocket, but your stomach is left empty.
State agencies in Arkansas spent thousands of dollars last year on restaurants and catering. There’s a state-operated website where you can view how government agencies are spending your tax dollars. It’s called Transparency Arkansas. Created by law in 2011, the website breaks down how nearly every state tax dollar is spent.
“We live in a time where there’s just a lot more information available and there’s an expectation among consumers and the citizens of Arkansas that this sort of information be available,” said Jake Bleed, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
While conducting government business certainly comes at a price, multiple government agencies are spending your tax dollars on restaurants and catering meals, Dover’s reporting discovered.
“I crunched the numbers using the data from the Transparency Arkansas website. Here’s the method: I didn’t count funds spent on cafeteria operations or regular office amenities like coffee. I also did not add in the hundreds of food expenditures at grocery stores. I simply added up what was spent at restaurants and on catering,” she said.
It turns out some state agencies have a bigger appetite than others.
The Department of Career Education Rehabilitation Services spent $15,532.30 on restaurants and catering last year. The highway department spent $21,797, while the Department of Human Services spent $39,237 and the Department of Health spent $39,900.
On the Transparency Arkansas website, there were some exquisite dining charges that stuck out like a $3,000 charge at Cajun’s Wharf from the Highway Department on a meal for their engineering interns’ orientation. Another $4,000 was spent by DHS at Forty Two, the restaurant at the Clinton Library, to rent the facility and cater a meal for a one-day meeting on aging. DHS also spent $1,000 for a lunch at Brave New Restaurant, winner of many awards for best upscale dining. A DHS spokesperson said it was a thank you lunch for volunteers paid for with a grant.
After a monthly meeting, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission spent more than $1,300 at high-end Ristorante Capeo on a meal with $40 beef tenderloin and $30 duck valentine and veal scallopini.
A Department of Workforce Services charge was found at a local beer brewing company, Diamond Bear. When asked about the charge that occurred last March, the DWS employee said he accidentally used the wrong card and had already paid the state back.
Just about every charge inquired had some kind of meeting or training attached.
Most of the restaurant and catering charges were not five-star dining, but smaller $500 at a time charges on sandwiches, BBQ and pizza.
It also seems the agencies tasked with handling and monitoring money are the leanest. The Department of Finance and Administration spent only $200 on catering for the whole year. The Auditor’s office only registered a minimal cafeteria charge and the Treasurer’s office spent only $200 on some sandwiches and BBQ.
There are also many agencies spending less than $500 a year on restaurants and catering, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, which spent no money whatsoever on these outside food costs.
Watch the full video report here.