- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Those $70 lunches and $14 “Death By Chocolate” desserts are gone from the executive menu at the government’s legal aid program for the poor. Expensive hotels and limousine services will become rare or disappear, too.

The Legal Services Corp. (LSC) has decided to change the generous expense policies for its top officials, yielding to pressure from members of Congress and the federal program’s independent watchdog.

The Associated Press highlighted in a series of stories in August and September how the program’s executives spent freely while many poor Americans were being turned away at clinics across the country because the program lacks sufficient money.

Among the costs that angered lawmakers and the inspector general: Corporate directors and top officials received $18 breakfast servings and $13 “high tea” services in fancy hotels. Directors shunned the agency’s own spacious conference room for an upscale hotel a few minutes away.

Legal Services is financed with tax dollars but given special status as an independent federal corporation, meaning it did not have to follow governmentwide expense guidelines.

After the outcry over its spending, the program decided to rein itself in by voluntarily imposing the same expense limits as federal workers.

The changes are outlined in a series of internal corporation memos, provided by the LSC to AP, and in an exchange of letters between corporation officials and Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, and Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah.

“It looks like the Legal Services Corporation learned its lesson,” Mr. Grassley said. “I hope $14 cookies and limo rides around town are a thing of the past.”

Board Chairman Frank Strickland said in a letter to the lawmakers that the corporation board and top management have embraced the changes.

LSC’s chief administrative officer, Charles Jeffress, wrote in one memo, “During board meetings, only beverages will be provided … no food will be provided for snack breaks.”

“Reasonably priced restaurants will be selected for board dinners,” and guests of board members will be expected to pay, he said.

Corporation inspector general Kirt West, the agency’s internal watchdog, reported that lunch at the January board of directors meeting in Washington cost $70 per person, while afternoon snack breaks cost as much as $27 per person.

The corporation board usually has four meetings a year, including one in Washington each January. The January 2007 meeting has been moved to the conference room in corporation headquarters, a policy that the inspector general concluded could save thousands of dollars.

Mr. Jeffress said use of limousine services will be curtailed. “It’s not going to be a common occurrence,” he said.

In another memo, Mr. Jeffress said the corporation adopted government hotel-rate guidelines, which allow waivers only under limited circumstances, including escalated rates because of special events or natural disasters.

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