First Look: Treasury IG Report Shows IRS Spent $50 Million on Conferences the Last Two Years
It's hard work separating citizens from their hard earned cash. Every once and a while, a little R&R at a nice venue with superior amenities is necessary to recharge the batteries and rehone those intimidation skills so that IRS agents can perform their job with the requisite impersonal disregard for the rights of American citizens.
So the IRS spending $50 million on conferences between 2010 and 2012 only sounds outrageous. It's really a bargain when you consider what they've accomplished over those two years, what with intimidating tea party groups and harassing Republican donors.
Besides, who are we to begrudge bureaucrats a little fun in the sun?
A government watchdog has found that the Internal Revenue Service spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, according to a House committee.
That total included $4 million for an August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about "leadership through art," the House committee said.
The report by Treasury Department's inspector general, set to be released Tuesday, comes as the IRS already is facing bipartisan criticism after agency officials disclosed they had targeted tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to extra scrutiny.
In case you've forgotten, Anaheim is the home of the original Disneyland and if they got baseball tickets, you have to wonder if they didn't get some kind of deal on admission to the theme park.
And, of course, what's an IRS conference without a parody of Star Trek?
According to congressional aides briefed by the inspector general's office, the IRS also did not formally seek competitive bids for the city where the agency's 2010 conference was held, for the event planner who assisted the agency, or for the speakers.
The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a confidential congressional briefing, said other benefits given to some attendees at the Anaheim IRS conference included vouchers for free drinks and some tickets to attend Angels baseball games.
"So they end up with free drinks, they ended up with tickets to games, basically kickbacks," Issa said on CNN.
Two videos produced by the IRS were shown at the Anaheim conference. In one, agency employees did a parody of "Star Trek" while dressed like the TV show's characters; the second shows more than a dozen IRS workers dancing on a stage. The two cost the agency more than $50,000 to make, aides said.
The lecturer who spoke about art through leadership produced six paintings while speaking with subjects that included Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, the rock singer Bono and the Statue of Liberty, the aides said.
When you think about it, tax collection is a lot like art. Designing forms to be as incomprehensible and complex as possible brings to mind the arrogance of modern artists who vie with each other to see just how obtuse they can be. And if IRS managers can find "art through leadership," the agency might want to consider hiring the curator of the Museum of Modern Art as commissioner. He certainly can't do any worse than the the jamokes they've had leading the agency lately.
Current IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel wants you to "take comfort that a conference like this would not take place today." Wow. Funny, but I don't feel comforted. Outraged, maybe. Incensed, for sure. Sorry, Danny, but "comfort" is pretty far down the list.
You hope that the IRS has learned its lesson, but Rep. Issa isn't so sure: "Understand that some of the things that they're saying, `Well, this wouldn't happen again,' they would still happen again," Issa said.
Of course they will. The anger will eventually subside. The world will go back to its normal business. The focus on the IRS will return to what the hell they were doing targeting conservative groups.
And five years from now, the IG will issue another report condemning the agency for wasting taxpayer's money on conferences, or whatever else the bureaucrats can come up with to give themselves those little perks and privileges they think the country owes them for their "service."