Congress is investigating $49 million in spending by the Internal Revenue Service on lavish conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.
When Faris Fink, commissioner of the IRS small business and self-employed division, testified before a House committee it seemed more like an opening skit on “Saturday Night Live” than a congressional hearing. Fink, one of the organizers of a $4.1 million conference in California, talked of taxpayer-paid gifts, upgrades to lavish hotel suites and the making of expensive parody videos (including one in which Mr. Fink played Mr. Spock of Star Trek).
When U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, asked Fink, “What were you thinking” when he played Spock in the Star Trek spoof about a planet with ineffective tax auditing practices, Fink said it was “an attempt, in a well-intentioned way, to use humor to open the conference.”
Later, Fink told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the two videos (that cost taxpayers $50,000) were “embarrassing, and I regret the fact that they were made.” The second video featured IRS managers in a line dance and was used to close the August 2010 three-day conference.
“In hindsight, many of the expenses that were incurred should have been more closely scrutinized or not have been incurred at all,” Fink said.
To spend close to $50 million on frivolity and foolishness — particularly at a time when money is tight and cuts to government spending are being demanded — is outrageous.
IRS Inspector General J. Russell George revealed in an audit last week that the IRS paid for expensive hotel rooms, spent tens of thousands of dollars for gifts for managers in attendance and $135,000 for outside event planners to book hotel rooms and high-priced speakers. One of the speakers at the California conference cost taxpayers $27,500 — plus $2,000 for a first-class plane ticket, according to The Washington Post.
Issa said — and it is difficult to disagree — the IRS was “effectively guilty of tax evasion” when it gave managers lodging in presidential suites, free meals and gifts without disclosing the perks as personal income.
Fink described to lawmakers a culture at the IRS that accepted excessive spending in 2010.
Fink and the recently appointed acting IRS commissioner, Daniel Werfel, contend these incidents would not occur today.
Of course not, the deplorable use of public money has been exposed.
This contrition is difficult to accept as sincere. Congress needs to keep pressing.