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

I believe Darryl Issa should begin an investigation, spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money, into this travesty of a spending spree of millions of taxpayer dollars. The fact-finding mission should reveal, at the very least, if anyone spoke the ubiquitous "Beam me up, Scottie", which, frankly, would be the last straw.

Sandypants

The only thing that they are sorry about is that they got caught.

Vladtheimp

I think the IRS has something in store for you - I would be careful around plants, coffee trays, and clock radios. Just sayin . . . .https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=oppo...

Sandypants

I'm shakin' in my Sandyshorts.

Vladtheimp

Just lookin out for you - depending on how miniaturized these are (QTY 4) Color IP Camera Concealment with single channel network server, supports dual video stream, poe, webviewer and cms software included, audio) they may be slippin one of dem in de Sandyshorts.

Sandypants

I stuck a hunk of masking tape over the camera hole ;)

Vladtheimp
Boater

It's all ridiculous. The Feds waste so much money, then say we need to pay more. This much change. Collected data on innocent Americans, targeting certain groups of Americans who this administration doesn't agree with, drones, enemies list, etc.. We are beginning to fear our Government. THIS is not acceptable.

Lanivan

I agree, Boater! That dang Bush administration - ignoring the warning about a terrorist attck before 9/11 and then pushing through the Patriot Act, IRS targeting of churches that were anti-war and killing, allowing and subsidizing the exploding growth of the data-mining industry, starting 2 wars on a wing and a lie, the very expensive Homeland Security and the War on Terror, water boarding, etc....I truly feared that administration.

Wingmaster

My the Emporer sure looks nice in his clothes today!

Boater

It was Clinton who ignored the 9/11 warnings silly! Remember the attacks on the US that were ignored? The Patriot Act under the Bush administration targeted FORIEGN phone calls. Bush didn't use drones on US citizens. That's Obama. You know the guy who runs the most transparent administration in history! And with the war on terror, your guy hasn't stopped it, has he?? But he says "The War on Terror is Over" IF that's the case WHY is he collecting data on ALL Americans? Makes no sense whatsoever. Only the "Government is the Answer" crowd buys that stupid argument. I thought Gitmo would be closed by now, but no, they are force feeding the thugs who live there. I have no problem water boarding terrorists to get information out of them, it has given us more intelligence than what bowing has done for BO. Yea, the Chi-Coms really respect this Administration too.. hacking into our top-secret information. And what exactly is BO's response to that? Nothing. It's a total joke and he has made us worse off in a none-recovery "recovery". Oh and something else to be proud of, A record 23,116,411 US households on food stamps. That's an accomplishment!

Wingmaster

Dang boater, your gonna need to throw Lan a life vest after that retort! Just try not to hit her in the head with it!

You going to have patience with her, she is a low information absorber of anything that doesn't follow the campaign rhetoric of Owonderful!

Boater

I know... I have zero patience for those who bow down to those who are taking away my family's liberties. I have contacted our Senators even though I Know it will result in being audited by the IRS.

winggirl

Yeah, Boater, but you ruin a good argument when you use facts rather than emotions to back up your statements. {Sigh}

Lanivan

That's some fancy rhetoric for a guy who has been accused of only being knowledgeable about sex and bodily fluids.....suppose it could be worse....

Wingmaster

Hisssssss, Meeeeoooow, Hissssss! More empty retorts to entertain us!

Lanivan

I guess they were right....

bigdeal

My comment was, I find him more humorous when he writes about sex or body fluids. Never said he was knowledgeable at all :)

Lanivan

I stand corrected! And concur.

Wingmaster

I play to the level of the audience. Mindless dribble gets easy mindless humor. At least humor is not dangerous for the country.

Lanivan

Well written Wing! Should humor ever become dangerous...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F...

bigdeal

I usually can believe what you post Lanivan, but after you had misconstrued my comment, I have to wonder...

would Lanivan have heard 8 shots or 10? oops, wrong story.

Lanivan

Please assure yourself I didn't intentionally misconstrue your clever and funny comment. It left an impression on me at the time (Wing - it's just business, nothing personal), and the moment presented itself to pull it out of the deep recesses of my data-mining. I do plead guilty to not going back to the source to copy it verbatim. I at least didn't plagiarize!

Are you targeting me for scrutiny based on my politics?

Wingmaster

Does it always have to come down to this with Lan trying to explain her "clever" self??http://www.monkeysee.com/play/96...

Lanivan

If you are actually complimenting me by saying I'm "clever" - thank you! If not, thank you all the same.

The link brought back bad memories of trying to make pretzels with my kids once - what a pain! I'll stick with Snyders.

Wingmaster

Should have said "cleaver" as that would be a better description of how we need to cut through your words.

Lanivan

Boater - Clinton ignored the 9/11 warnings? Now that's silly. 9/11 happened 8 months after Bush took office. And the ignored warnings that summer had become more and more dire.

As for the Patriot Act, you might be referring to Prism, created in 2007, under Bush. As for Gitmo, well, I doubt seriously you care for the welfare of the terrorists being held, what with your approval of waterboarding. You complain about drones, but in the same breath you accuse Obama of "bowing". The fact remains that Obama killed bin Laden, ended the Iraq War, has done some real damage to Al Qaeda, and all without starting another trillion+ war. And then there's the housing, banking, and doubling of the debt crisis which led to the Great Recession, and the need for those food stamps. But, hey - let's blame Obama. (I certainly will never vote for him for president again!)

But then, facts are terribly difficult to deal with when they don't fit the scenario you are being force fed. Cheer up - it's boating season!

winggirl

Yes, Clinton DID ignore the warnings that led up to 9/11, did absolutely nothing about the bombing of the USS Cole, and was even offered Bin Laden YEARS before the 9/11 attacks (which were planned long before Bush was in office).

I don't know about Boater, but I, for one, don't give a damn about the welfare of the terrorists. Why should I? They target innocent people based on their faith.

The Patriot Act is a mistake in my opinion. but drafted to mollify Americans in fear of their safety, which means loss of freedom. That being said, the current administration has taken the Patriot Act to the next level of abuse, which was to be expected on the day the Act was signed.

Lanivan

The Clinton administration received continuous warnings of attacks, as did Bush's. But the information in the summer before 9/11 was becoming more specific in terms of the nature and timing of the attack, and should never have been relegated to the low-priority file. The whole point of bringing up 9/11 was that it was what allowed Congress to pass the Patriot Act, begin the wars, that led to the doubling of the debt, etc.

The whole point of this exercise is that the current administration alone has not taken the Patriot Act to the next level of abuse. Prism was passed under Bush, and as each of the provisions of the Patriot Act come up for review and approval, over the past many years, Congress, which has the power to make changes, continuously votes to reinstate. Blaming Obama without putting the whole sorry story into context is taking the easy way out.

Wingmaster

Facts don't work winggirl (like that name for some reason) when your debating Lanny. Her guy and side cannot be troubled with facts as he/they deal in nuance, a far higher level of intelligence and awareness then us in the silent majority. Problem is the silent majority is getting *fed up (fast finger correction for Lan) and we are finding our voice. The left is running out of plays in their play book and the old plays don't work anymore.

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