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4 Jun, 2013 01:33

IRS wasted $50 mln on luxury hotels, alcohol and baseball tickets

IRS wasted $50 mln on luxury hotels, alcohol and baseball tickets

An internal watchdog claims the IRS spent $50 million on ‘inappropriate’ conference funds during a three-year period – news that serves to further embarrass the agency in wake of its targeting of conservative groups.

The Internal Revenue Service allegedly spent nearly $50 million on about 200 employee conferences between 2010 and 2012, during which it frequently provided its workers with presidential hotel suites and allowed them to take dance classes and attend baseball games, according to excerpts from an inspector general’s report slated to be released Tuesday.

An August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., cost the IRS $4 million. About 2,600 managers attended the event and stayed in presidential hotel suites that usually cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. About 15 outside speakers were paid $135,000 each, one of which was hired to discuss “leadership through art”, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which released the excerpts.

The IRS also failed to negotiate lower room rates, which is a standard practice for federal government agencies. Employees who attended the conference also received a number of costly benefits, including baseball tickets at taxpayers’ expense.

“They ended up with free drinks, they ended up with tickets to games – basically kickbacks,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House oversight panel that released the excerpts, told NBC News.

Over the weekend, a video surfaced online, showing about a dozen IRS employees line dancing before the Anaheim conference. The latest recording of the dancing workers cost the agency about $1,600 and portrays a lack of seriousness in the hours leading up to the conference. The “Cupid shuffle” line dance recording was released after two IRS video parodies of the “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island” TV shows were publicized in recent weeks. The IRS allegedly spent about $60,000 in taxpayer funds to produce all three videos, ABC News reports.

“It’s outrageous. Any kind of wasteful spending like this must be put down, particularly at these times,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told NBC.
IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel admitted that the spending outlined by the inspector general’s report was excessive, but argued that the agency has become more responsible since then.

“This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era,” IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement released Sunday, referring to the event in Anaheim. “While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred.”

Werfel also claims that travel and training expenses have decreased by “more than 80 percent.”

The Treasury Department released a statement alleging that the administration “has already taken aggressive and dramatic action to reduce conference spending.” IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge also said that spending on conferences with 50 or more participants was reduced from $37.6 million in 2010 to $4.9 million in 2012, AP reports.

But news of the IRS’s spending history serves as further embarrassment after the agency has been exposed numerous times for its inappropriate conduct in recent weeks. The agency has come under fire for targeting tea party organizations and other conservative political groups more frequently for audits, which generated immense criticism toward the IRS from Americans of all political groups.

The inspector general’s report also includes quotes from interviews with IRS employees, one of which said that “all my direction” in screening conservative groups came from an official in Washington, D.C. – a statement that further contradicts IRS officials’ initial claims that low-level employees ordered the targeted audits.

Rep. Issa plans to hold a hearing on the conference spending on Thursday, two days after the full report is slated to be released.