The IRS is facing a storm of angry criticism for its lavish spending on ridiculous conferences, videos, employee amusements, and so forth. Hearings were held at the House Ways and Means Committee today, where Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) delivered an amazing speech, recalling how people in his own state were making tough cuts - at both public and personal levels - while IRS big shots were living the high life at taxpayer expense. One memory in particular brought Gowdy to the brink of tears. He didn't see this "cultural, systemic, character, moral issue" as something that could be solved with one more webinar or list of recommendations.
Here's some of the outrageous abuse Gowdy was talking about, courtesy of Fox News. We heard stories like this last year, when the GSA scandal blew up. Clearly it's a rot that has seeped in at many government agencies... and this garbage never seems to come up when it's time to talk about fiscal restraint, does it? No, we're told we have to fire cops, teachers, firefighters, and air traffic controllers to pay for the first nickel of "spending cuts" that aren't even cuts, while IRS big shots throw $4 million dance parties and stay in $1500 hotel suites.
The IRS was summoned to a House oversight hearing to explain how it blew through $50 million on conferences between 2010 and 2012, including spending more than $4 million on a single California conference in 2010. For the agency's many critics, it compounded frustrations which had already mounted over the agency's targeting of conservative groups.
"Not only does the IRS take your money, not give you proper answers, but then when it comes to tens of millions of dollars, use it in a way that is, at best, maliciously self-indulgent," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, likewise slammed the agency, specifically for spending $50,000 on "ridiculous" training videos, one of which was a "Star Trek" parody. Cummings noted that's more than many families make in a year.
Inspector General J. Russell George ticked off a list of over-the-top expenses incurred at the 2010 conference in Anaheim. He said the agency spent $35,000 on planning trips, $64,000 on gifts and trinkets including squirting fish toys, and $135,000 on outside speakers.
Where was the man in charge while all this was going down? Why, that would be division head Faris Fink. He was playing Mr. Spock in the "Star Trek" video. Neither Leonard Nimoy nor Zachary Quinto has to worry about being upstaged.
Fink admitted that production of this video was "not the best use of taxpayer dollars." Also not the best use of taxpayer dollars: his $1500 hotel suite at the Anaheim conference. He was one of 132 officials who got upgraded accommodations. The division commissioner was staying in a $3500 room. The agency claims it got discounts on the room rates, but frankly it's not really sure how much most of this stuff cost, because it didn't save the receipts.
Fink's early statements to the committee were arguably perjured, since his story changed under withering cross-examination from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who came at Fink with a certain Klingon intensity:
House Oversight chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) had some pictures of the luxury suites enjoyed by IRS officials, noting that their inability to fully account for the expenses is the sort of deficiency they prosecute American citizens as tax evaders for:
Of course, we're hearing a lot of promises about how changes will be made, this will never happen again, etc. We should know the words to that song by heart now. We've heard it often enough.