IRS apologizes for $4M conference

An Internal Revenue Service official whose division staged a lavish $4.1 million training conference and who starred as Mr. Spock in a "Star Trek" parody shown at the 2010 gathering conceded to Congress last week that taxpayer dollars were wasted in the episode.
AP Wire
Jun 10, 2013

 

"We're now in a very different environment" with new IRS spending curbs, Faris Fink, a top deputy in the agency's small business division at the time, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Fink, who now heads that 24,000-employee division, said he believes many of the expenditures "should have been more closely scrutinized or not incurred at all and were not the best use of taxpayer dollars."

The mea culpa was echoed by new acting IRS chief Danny Werfel as the embattled agency struggled to contain public and congressional ire over its targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and its spending of $49 million on 225 employee conferences over the past three years.

Werfel called the 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., "an unfortunate vestige from a prior era" and said IRS spending on travel and training has fallen 80 percent since then.

"Our work in this area is one part of a much larger effort to chart a path forward in the IRS. This is obviously a very challenging time for the agency," Werfel said.

Werfel, who testified after Fink had left the committee room, became acting commissioner last month after President Barack Obama forced Steven Miller out of the job. Werfel appeared a day after putting two IRS officials on administrative leave for accepting free food at a party in a private suite at the Anaheim conference.

Behind the scenes, committee investigators have interviewed at least four IRS employees about the targeting of conservative groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections. The Associated Press viewed transcripts of interviews with two employees who work in the Cincinnati office where agents screened the applications.

The transcripts show that the employees believed that officials in Washington were directing their work. But they don't show any direct evidence that officials in Washington ordered the agents to target tea party groups, or why they may have done so.

Elizabeth Hofacre, an agent in the Cincinnati office, said she was in charge of processing applications from tea party groups, once they were selected by other agents, from April to October 2010, according to the transcript. She said an IRS lawyer in Washington, Carter Hull, micromanaged her work and ultimately delayed the processing of applications by tea party groups.

She said Hull's interest in the cases was highly unusual. "It was demeaning," she said. "One of the criteria is to work independently and do research and make decisions based on your experience and education, whereas on this case, I had no autonomy at all through the process."

Neither Hofacre nor Hull responded to requests for comment.

IRS regulations say tax-exempt social welfare organizations can engage in political activity, but not as their primary activity. It is up to the agency to make that determination.

Fink insisted that the IRS followed federal guidelines in planning the Anaheim gathering for 2,600 IRS workers. He said the conference was justified because at the time, around 30 percent of its managers were new and the agency was facing increased security threats.

Sitting at the same witness table was J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general whose scathing reports on the IRS' targeting of conservatives and conference spending have rocked the agency. George said he uncovered no criminal violations involving the conference.

Those comments didn't shield Fink from a three-hour tongue-lashing from the panel.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the spending for the California conference "at best maliciously self-indulgent."

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., reprised a major GOP theme of the IRS controversy: that the agency will help implement a favorite Republican target, Obama's health care overhaul.

"It will soon have access to our health information," Gowdy said of the IRS. "Those are details that we don't share with people that we do trust, and we're going to be asked to share it with people who are so disconnected as to spend this amount of money."

Top panel Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland said he viewed the "Star Trek" video at 3 a.m. Thursday and said, "I tried to get to the redeeming value. Can't get there." Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., called the video "an insult to the memory of 'Star Trek.'"

Fink sat stoically as TV screens in the hearing room showed excerpts of that nearly six-minute video, in which he and other IRS employees wore "Star Trek" uniforms on a set resembling the bridge of the series' Starship Enterprise and Fink sported pointy ears and a black wig.

"It's embarrassing and I apologize," he told the lawmakers. He called the video "a well-intentioned way to use humor to open the conference."

George's report concluded that rather than saving money by negotiating lower room rates with the three Anaheim hotels, the IRS paid a standard government rate of $135 per room but accepted perks in return.

Asked why the IRS didn't negotiate for lower room rates, Fink said, "I was not aware we had the ability to do that."

The perks included some tickets to Los Angeles Angels baseball games and free upgrades for some executives to fancy suites that normally cost up to $3,500 per night and included wet bars and billiard tables. The report said 132 IRS employees got room upgrades.

The report found the IRS used two private event planners whose commissions were based on the hotel bills and therefore had no incentive to save money; spent $50,000 on the "Star Trek" video and another showing IRS employees line dancing; and paid $135,000 to 15 outside speakers.

It also spent $35,800 for IRS workers to make three planning trips to the conference site; paid $30,000 for 45 IRS workers in local offices to stay in hotels and collect per diem expenses from the government; and spent more than $64,000 for gifts including bags and journals with the conference logo.

The conference included two dozen workshops, including one led by IRS officials entitled, "Political Savvy: How Not to Shoot Yourself in the Foot."

Fink left the hearing with companions and ignored reporters' questions as the group walked briskly away from the hearing room.

 

Comments

Lanivan

O, the vertigo! I'd be more than happy to respond, after taking some time to research. But first, I need your assurance you won't respond to my response with your usual accusations of my chumping you, of being an Obamabot, of wasting your time, etc, etc. Just reading down your list, which you have already pronounced as "lies", makes me wonder if you haven't already lost your balance.

I'll go pour another while waiting for that assurance.

Vladtheimp

If you are impacted by vertigo with this list, just consider I have lists for each of his years as President, plus some from when he pretended to be a Senator. You said:

"If you can't ask valid questions that demonstrate some modicum of deviation from your usual set-in-stone preconceived convictions with the expectation of total submission on my part, don't ask me for answers."

I asked the questions, as you requested. If you provide honest answers to why these statements are not lies, unencumbered by gratuitous shots at the former President, that demonstrate Obama was not lying, I, of course, will be most interested. I am sufficiently well balanced to walk upright, thanks to too much adipose tissue in the front and the back, but maybe you should just focus on what Obama said rather than how I characterized it, and explain why he was telling the truth.

Happy research - I'm sure the NSA will identify significant hits on Huffington Post, Think Progress, Media Matters, Mother Jones, and the other sources that a moderate Republican like yourself would visit, Sancho Panza like.

Lanivan

Are you kidding me? Your idea of an assurance is perhaps, maybe, if I answer to your liking, to be "interested"? Huuuge red flag!

Plus, on top of everything else, you misconstrued my vertigo comment - I meant YOU had a big case of it. In addition, on the one hand, you refer to your negative adipose tissue situation, probably a direct result of your sedentary fave activity of making up lists of the Obama years, then on the other, refer to my research endeavor as "Sancho Panza" like. Is this your idea of getting back at me for my comparing you to the lead character in Breakfast of Champions, a suggestion that I have a big belly, just another attempt at diversion and deflection, or to disenfranchise my search for the 'truth'?

Like a good Obamaford Wife, I'm off to do the required research. Regardless of the results, I can pretty much guarantee you will make my point re: your set-in-stone preconceived convictions.

Vladtheimp

I meant what I said - if you can demonstrate that Obama didn't lie in each of those instances, I will apologize. I think you updated the movie reference - back in the day, it was a "Stepford Wife" but the new version fits. Sorry, don't follow the rest of your second paragraph - I was admitting I am the one with the big belly.

I'm sure you will find a way to demonstrate that I made your point. On the positive side, Obama's NSA is not looking for progressives so you are not at risk of being identified and profiled. Have a great evening.

Lanivan

The dust has now settled, and the research begins. As for the apology, you have convinced me, but would like to take it one step further. If I am not successful in making my point (about you), you have to promise to work on that omentum. Which means no more sitting and making lists, and following our First Lady's diet directives.

I assume you will agree to this humble request. By the way, your 'O'Bama' has me thinking - you both share an Irish heritage. Wouldn't it be a knee-slapper if....

Wingmaster

Maybe this will help Vlad

http://suite101.com/article/pare...

Maybe she just needs a nap!

Vladtheimp

Thanks, but if I had a child like Lanny I'm afraid I would spend a lot of time wondering where I went wrong - intelligent, sometimes charming, good sense of humor, but seemingly unable to resist the rose colored glasses when viewing issues impacting our liberties and freedoms, and the blinders when viewing O'drama. Probably refrained from parental discipline - my bad.

Lanivan

Daddy - is that you? You always said I was your pride and joy when I was good, but that you failed me by not being able to discipline me like the boys when I was bad.....Oh wait, it can't be dad - he always believed in me no matter what (and he would never be so disrespectful of the president). Sorry - I'll just go pour another....

Wingmaster

Now ya did it, wait till she rereads and sees you called Barrack Hussein Obama.... Odrama!

Just wait till she runs to Mama whining about that one!

Lanivan

For the love of pete, it's spelled Barack, not Barrack! What would you do without me spell-checking you all the time?

Isn't it your bedtime....go get those jammies on!

Vladtheimp

I guess you are the only one who has seen the REAL, ORIGINAL, Birf certificate so you can definitively verify the correct spelling. Maybe you should just file it in federal court to stop the waste of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to ensure no-one else has access to that special document. I thank you in advance for saving us that money!

Wingmaster

I like saying it Barrack, kinda rolling the r's. Sounds more authentic don't ya think.

Now if we could get you as focused on facts you as you are spelling you just might learn something.

What's that you say, facts are hard! There, there just listen to Vlad he will patiently spell them out even though he knows you need a good whooping to straighten you out.

Oh by the way, you probably should go back and capitalize Pete and "spell checking" does not need to be hyphenated. Bottoms up!

Vladtheimp

Thanks, but if I had a child like Lanny I'm afraid I would spend a lot of time wondering where I went wrong - intelligent, sometimes charming, good sense of humor, but seemingly unable to resist the rose colored glasses when viewing issues impacting our liberties and freedoms, and the blinders when viewing O'drama. Probably refrained from parental discipline - my bad.

Vladtheimp

Even the edit key wouldn't help me - I guess remedial computer skills are in my future.

Lanivan

And may I suggest a nice Dale Carnegie crash course on how to make friends and influence people?

Wingmaster

May I suggest a new topic as you are now cornered and not responding to facts and direct questions.

Vlad, please help keep shiny objects out of her sight until she gets focused.

Lanivan

Ok, here we go - vroom, vroom, flex, flex, tissues at the ready.

Obama's a serial liar, and I, for one, will never vote for him in a presidential election again!

Before you accuse me of being flip and disingenuous, I will get serious. While going through your list, some of which I was familiar with, I wondered why you had gone so easy on me - that problem with discipline thing?. Yes - Obama did misspeak, was sloppy in his choice of words, glossed over, or his overall statement does not hold up to detailed scrutiny, but did he out and out lie? No. That honor goes to Mitt and the Repubs. My research revealed that 52% of Mitt's statements that were graded were either Pants On Fire lies, false, or mostly false, far more than Obama's. And a recent study shows that 32% of Repub statements in the first 4 months of 2013 were found to be Pants On Fire or false, to 11% of Dem statements. Am I glad I'm a centrist, or what?

Most of the statements on your list fall into the "bad word choice" rather than outright lie. For example, MR's raising of nursing home fees 8x - he raised 8 rates/fee once. Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms in-house - it provides breast exams in-house and referrals for mammograms to be performed in x-ray facilities. 'Health care premiums' grew less than any time in 50 years - Obama was mixing 2 reports, one that said health care 'costs' were slower than any time in 50 years and health care 'premiums' were growing slower in any time for the last 14 years.

The Fast and Furious program was initiated under Obama, but was based on the tactic of 'gun walking' created under Bush under a different name. We got back every dime - the government has received back from the bailout $266.7 billion from the $245.2 billion handed out. Paul Ryan might have voted yes - but Obama didn't say Ryan was going to vote no - he merely stated Ryan was a member of congress 'standing in the way', non-specific (a clever Vlad-style remark).

And so on. None of these statements suggest to me a devious plot to deliberately and with malice deceive and blind the American public, nor or they outrageously brazen lies meant to support an ideology. Do I think Obama is a clever and sly politician who is perfectly capable of creating a statement that supports his intent? Yes - he's very good at it. I give you that. Do I think he is unique among presidents or politicians with this ability? No. Is he a 'serial liar'? No.

Of course, none of this will convince you of anything. My push for assurance was to avoid a Mean Mr. Mustard reaction from you. I slowly am gaining a better insight and understanding of your viewpoint, however, so it's not all a waste of your time.

On a happier note, speaking of reactions, I stumbled across a new study that supports my argument of a while back regarding the ACA. The public is more confused and frustrated by Obamacare than opposed to it (education imperative - 4 out of 10 Americans don't realize the law has not been struck down); 52%-34% they want Congress to implement or tinker with the law rather than repeal it, and by a 10 point margin trust Dems over Repubs to do that implementation.

Also, Congressional approval of Repubs was down to 9% in April.

Here is a superb report on the dark money politics of 501(c)4's, which by the way, I have noticed reserve on your part in terms of your thoughts on the subject. It's long and detailed (for me) report, but if anything, scroll down to the graphs. Would appreciate your thoughts. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes...

Vladtheimp

You have got to be freakin kidding! The issue was the list of Obama lies in his fourth term which I presented, not what your research allegedly shows about Romney or Republicans. Debating with you is like trying to staple jello to a wall - it oozes down and morphs into another incomprehensible form. You prove my point that to Obamabots like yourself, the man can tells untruths, falsehoods, fibs, stories, tall tales, white lies, inventions; he can misspeak, be sloppy in his choice of words, gloss facts over, sly, clever, or his overall statement may not hold up to detailed scrutiny, but he cannot tell a lie. Do you have any idea how lame and self-serving that sounds to anyone who has not drunk deeply from the Obama Cool-Aid? Apparently not. Here are the correct answers: In each case Obama lied.

Since the exercise wasn't completely wasted ("I slowly am gaining a better insight and understanding your viewpoint, however, so it's not all a waste of your time. ") Here's a list of Obama's lies from his third year:

I will walk on that picket line with you, if workers are denied the right to bargain.

I’ve done more for Israel’s security than any President ever

Virtually every Senate Republican voted against the tax cut last week

“Every idea that we’ve put forward are ones that traditionally have been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Obama met highly qualified out of work teacher Robert Baroz

GOP Responsible for Obama Jobs Bill Not Passing

You have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach. Eighty percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts. So the notion that somehow the American people aren’t sold is not the problem

These are obligations that the United States has taken on in the past. Congress has run up the credit card, and we now have an obligation to pay our bills.

Jobs Bill Paid for

Then you’ve got their(GOP)which is dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance

I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it. (Social Security/debt limit)

USA producing more oil than ever before

Fence between US and Mexico is “Practically Complete”

Mitt Romney would deny gay people the right to adopt children.

Lanivan

I will take your words into consideration.

I assume you have no thoughts on the IRS 501(C)4 dark money politics report.

Have a pleasant weekend.

Vladtheimp

Although it is true that the newly empowered 501(c) organizations spent far more on Republicans than on Democrats, they are merely one part of political donations.

It appears that the emergence of these groups on the Republican side barely managed to level the playing field as far as the donations that went to the Democrats, when you consider that when you " Comb through Federal Election Commission data, and piece together all the money spent for or against Romney and Obama, and you get basically a tie: $1.095 billion on Obama's side, and $1.089 billion on Romney's side. " And that doesn't count the hours spent by union employees, described as a kind of "shadow army" on behalf of democrats. It is estimated that unions spent more than the $450 million they spent to elect Obama four years ago. "The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Change to Win, the rival labor federation, campaigned all out for Mr. Obama, with labor leaders saying that unions and their political action committees spent nearly $450 million during the race." http://townhall.com/news/politic...

Unions tend to spend almost exclusively on Democrats, unlike corporations. In 2008, Democrats received 55% of the $2 billion contributed by corporate PACs and company employees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Labor unions were responsible for $75 million in political donations, with 92% going to Democrats. 

A good look at the spending of Obama v Romney is here: http://www.aei.org/article/polit...

Lanivan

Every joke I could find to retaliate was inappropriate for a family forum, so here goes:

There once were two lads from DC
Whose politics could make one uneasy.
Constitutional law was their passion;
Seeking truth amidst lies their vocation-

Of course I mean Vlad and pal Barry.

Vladtheimp

When George Bush okay-ed tapping the phones,
Of those Barry's killing with Drones,
You'd think he committed a theft,
from the vicious attacks from the left.

When Barry okay-ed spying on all,
even kids sending text at the Mall,
You'd think he was just saving Granny,
from the silence of Liberals like Lanny.

Lanivan

There once was a Conservative from West Michigan,
Who thought Sarah, Ann, and Carol D.'s politics All-American.
Liberals, progressives, the elite,
He worked diligently to delete,
But discovered centrist Lanny required a magician.

Lanivan

And, finally, a gently reminder,
Before you go even blinder,
GOP greed full of thunder and blunder,
And zero Jobs Bills forced the country's surrender.

The War on Terror, Rights, Equality, and 1% assets
And Patriot Act drove America nearly to collapse.
Gun-walking, wars, the doubling of debt,
Created conditions for Obama's kismet.

Vladtheimp

Woman in Hot Air Balloon

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him,

"Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican.

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be an Obama-Democrat."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are -- or where you are going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

Wingmaster

LMFAO Vlad. Humor is best when it is a reflection of life. Have a great Fathers Day!

Sorry Lan, but I think you better land before you completely lose sight of land;-).....change your "attitude" then its 49 minutes more right and....

Wingmaster

Not sure its worthy of a response to Lan anymore. Of course you won't vote for Barrrrack again, well unless he manages to convince the sheeple he must have another term. Golly gee I as almost believed ya there ( back on the turnip truck I go, whew!) ;-)!

I'm dead serious when I say I'm not sure your worth the responses anymore as you are not for one second able to consider BO as anything but superior in his politics or intent. I'm just not interested in the debate with you anymore. I will continue to present the opposing view to yours but probably not waste my phone battery debating with you.

Ignorance is bliss, so you can take that statement however you like!

At some point you will run to the ideals, and the documents of our founding and whole heartedly defend them over all but it may be too late. I know you centrist intellectuals realize how old and outdated those tired documents are and how bad they need pruning but one can hope. Till then, enjoy your bliss, I hope we as a nation survive this bliss! I'll keep clutching my family, guns and bible.

Long post on small screen so hope you enjoy grading my post an its meaning!

Lanivan

I believe you to be a man of conviction and principles, and know you will do the right thing.

Happy Father's Day - have a pleasant weekend.

Say no to new taxes

In the private sector "I'm sorry" wouldn't cut it. Instead, a whole bunch of people would become "former IRS employees".

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