Tightly Closed Administration Appears to be Coming Apart
WASHINGTON — President Obama is being hit by new scandals almost weekly in a growing web of investigations and revelations that have further damaged his troubled administration.
The U.S. Treasury’s Inspector General (IG) released a new report Tuesday that revealed the Internal Revenue Service spent $50 million on 220 conferences for IRS employees over a three-year period beginning in 2010.
Despite annual federal budget deficits of more than $1 trillion throughout Obama’s first term, the IG found many of the IRS’ expenditures to be downright wasteful.
In one of its findings, the IRS focused on a conference in Anaheim, Calif. — home of Disneyland — where some 2,600 employees in the agency’s small-business division gathered for a little fun and relaxation paid for by the American people.
In a conference that cost taxpayers about $4.1 million, IRS workers were shown two training videos that cost at least $60,000 to produce. One of them was a parody of “Star Trek” in which employees, wearing Star Trek uniforms, talked about how to dig out tax fraud in a full-scale mock-up of the bridge of the starship Enterprise.
In the video, an IRS employee portraying the Russian character Pavel Chekov tells one of his colleagues, “Back in Russia, I dreamed someday I’d be rich and famous.”
“Me, too. That’s why I became a public servant,” his starship colleague replies.
In the other video, IRS employees are seen dancing the “Cupid Shuffle,” as a female IRS agent remarks, “They don’t pay me enough to do this.”
Two keynote speakers together at the conference were paid at least $44,000, plus $2,000 for first-class air travel. In one of the speeches, about how art influences leadership, the speaker painted six paintings and gave two of them to IRS employees attending the event.
“The outrage toward the IRS is only growing stronger. Clearly this is an agency where abuse and waste is the norm and not the exception,” said Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee oversight subcommittee.
This latest IRS scandal comes on the heels of the IG’s bombshell disclosure that dozens of conservative groups who filed for tax-exempt status were targeted by the IRS for intensive, delay-provoking scrutiny.
That scandal forced the resignation of the IRS’ acting commissioner and led to a wave of congressional hearings and investigations, a Justice Department criminal probe, and calls in Congress for a special prosecutor.
Then there was a troubling report from the U.S. Labor Department’s Inspector General, who charged that the Job Corps has badly mismanaged its budgeting operations by allowing program costs to rise far above its appropriations. The IG said out-of-control spending led to $60 million in red ink.
The Job Corps has been one of Obama’s pet agencies over the course of his presidency, as the White House has sought to boost its budget in the midst of persistently high unemployment over the past 4 1/2 years.
The IG’s report “sheds new light on the persistent failure to adequately budget, plan and monitor costs,” said Sen. Robert Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, who asked for the audit. Jane Oates, the department official who headed the Job Corps when the budget deficit occurred, resigned last month.
More recently, a lengthy investigation by The Associated Press revealed Tuesday that a number of appointees in the Obama administration have been using secret email accounts, which has raised suspicions they may be attempting to circumvent future investigations or public inquiries.
“The secret email accounts complicate an agency’s legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them,” the AP news wire service reported.
“Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions,” the AP pointedly said.
One of the administration’s top Cabinet officials using a secret government email account is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been in the thick of Obama’s continuing controversies and legal fights over his health care law.
How secret is Sebelius’s off-the-books email account? Google, the global search engine, said it could not find any reference on the Internet to her email address.
Bear in mind, this is a tightly closed administration that zealously guards its secrets to the point where the Justice Department has secretly seized and searched the phone records of Washington journalists and the emails of a Fox News reporter — another scandal that has triggered a rash of investigative hearings in the House and Senate.
Part of that widening investigation centers on Attorney General Eric Holder’s sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15, when he said he was not involved in the “potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material.”
“This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, (or) would think would be wise policy,” Holder said.
News accounts have reported that Holder signed off on the decision to obtain the Fox News reporter’s emails, and Republicans are looking into whether he lied under oath when he made that statement.
These investigations — plus ongoing inquiries into the administration’s misinformation about the deadly terrorist attacks at our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed, including the ambassador — cast a darkening cloud of scandal and possibly criminal activity over Obama’s second term.
Sen. John McCain says Obama has become “mired” in a swamp of scandals and that “the president’s credibility obviously is at stake here.”
The Gallup Poll said Monday that Obama’s job approval score has sunk to 47 percent, a 12-month low, and lately the West Wing is increasingly sounding like it’s coming unglued.
As McCain observed Monday on CBS’ “This Morning” in a delicious bit of understatement, administration officials are “not covering themselves with distinction here.”