IRS officials try to tame conference spending scandal

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 6, 2013 2:20pm EDT

1 of 3. Faris Fink (R), commissioner of the IRS small business and self-employed division, testifies at a House Oversight and Government reform hearing on 'Collected and Wasted - The IRS Spending Culture and Conference Abuses, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 6, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

Related Topics

Photo

Under the Iron Dome

Sirens sound as rockets land deep inside Israel.  Slideshow 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Internal Revenue Service officials on Thursday tried to tame another scandal plaguing the agency, apologizing to lawmakers for a lavish 2010 conference in California that included an elaborate Star Trek spoof training video.

"After I saw the production, I fully regretted it," said Faris Fink, the IRS small business commissioner who played the character Spock in the Star Trek parody that included a tax-themed skit. "It's embarrassing."

The IRS, already under a cloud of scandal related to the targeting of conservative groups, this week faced fresh criticism over a Treasury watchdog report on wasteful spending.

Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accused the agency of grossly misusing taxpayer money when it spent at least $4.1 million at the conference on luxury hotel rooms, expensive training videos and outside speakers on topics such as leadership through painting.

A Treasury report released this week condemned the conference and said $3.2 million of the cost was funded by money set aside to hire enforcement employees.

Fink on Thursday said the IRS did not keep full records of the Anaheim, California, conference and warned the overall cost could have been as high as $5 million.

The conference scandal has further eroded the public image of the IRS, which is under fire after it was revealed last month that workers in a Cincinnati, Ohio, field office targeted conservative groups for intense scrutiny when considering applications for tax-exempt status.

Republicans, including House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, have accused the IRS of following direction from Washington in the targeting, but current and former top IRS officials have denied that there was political motivation.

On Thursday, Issa blasted the IRS for the conference spending, calling it "at best, maliciously self-indulgent."

Lawmakers particularly seized on the $50,000 the IRS spent during the conference on training videos, which also included a line-dancing routine video "designed to engage managers and help facilitate a connection between executives and managers."

Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said he was up at 3 a.m. watching the Star Trek video trying to find a way the cost could be justified.

"I swear I do not see the redeeming value," Cummings said.

Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel, who started in the position on May 22 after President Barack Obama fired Werfel's predecessor, told lawmakers that the IRS is "an agency in crisis" and pledged to clean up its reputation.

The tax agency has been under fire since early May, when IRS official Lois Lerner publicly acknowledged that IRS workers had inappropriately targeted Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status and apologized for the behavior.

Multiple congressional committees and the Justice Department have since opened probes into the matter, but it is still unclear exactly who initiated the targeting and what the motivation was behind it.

Current and former IRS officials have said the Cincinnati office made a poor choice in using criteria such as "Tea Party" and "patriots" to sift through a flood of applications for tax-exempt status.

Obama denied knowing about the targeting before Lerner's apology on May 10 and fired Steven Miller, who was the acting head of the IRS. Lerner has been put on administrative leave.

On Wednesday, two IRS staffers were suspended because of the conference spending scandal.

Werfel said in a statement that the incident related to food that was inappropriately provided free of charge at a party inside a private suite at the conference. He said that represented a violation of government ethics standards.

J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, on Thursday compared IRS mismanagement at the center of the Tea Party scandal to the conference spending, saying there was a similar lack of oversight and sound judgment.

"Managers seemed to have a lack of concern about how the expenditures would be perceived," George said at the hearing.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon and Patrick Temple-West; Writing by Karey Van Hall; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Tim Dobbyn)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (48)
AlkalineState wrote:
“…a $4.1 million conference in Anaheim, California, that included luxury hotel rooms and a speaker paid $17,000 to talk about leadership through painting.”

Anything this lame and wasteful should have been done in Iraq. Where would go undetected :)

I say fire the whole IRS. Start over.

Jun 06, 2013 11:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
basic_math wrote:
IRS:

$50 million dollar waste.

Approximately 125 million working americans.

50 / 125 = $0.40 cents of waste per taxpayer. BFD.

Military:

$600 Billion annual budget.
25% rate of loss due to fraud with contracts (nepotism and embezzlement)

$150 BILLION in waste/loss
~ 125 million working americans

150000 / 125 = $1200 in theft/waste per taxpayer.

Should we really be focusing on the 40 cent loss from the IRS when the military is literally giving away a grand from each of us every year to their friends manufacturing company which gives an incomplete product at best.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/billsinger/2012/06/15/feds-wage-war-on-military-fraud-as-some-fight-but-some-steal/

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/jun/09/arianna-huffington/halliburton-kbr-and-iraq-war-contracting-history-s/

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/defense_budget_2012_3.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/30/military-spending-waste_n_942723.html

Jun 06, 2013 11:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
totherepublic wrote:
Oh, he apologized…everthing is ok now. NOT!

Jun 06, 2013 11:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.