“IRS Is an Agency in Crisis”
As if the Internal Revenue Service wasn’t in a boatload of trouble already, a congressional committee charged with rooting out corruption in government is investigating the tax agency for blowing tens of millions of dollars on employee conferences.
The probe comes on the heels of the scandal for the ages, in which the IRS targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Organizations with conservative-sounding phrases such as patriot and Tea Party in their titles were singled out by the agency, according to a Treasury Inspector General report that ignited outrage among both Democrats and Republicans alike. Though illegal, this witch hunt against conservatives was rampant at the highest levels of the agency, according to the Treasury watchdog.
This week’s IRS scandal du jour involves $50 million that the beleaguered agency spent on hundreds of conferences for its employees between 2010 and 2012. Media reports began to leak over the weekend attributing the outrageous figure to a Treasury IG report due out this week. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the congressional watchdog that holds government accountable to taxpayers, immediately jumped on it and will hold a hearing on the matter this week.
The conference spending includes $4 million for a 2010 gathering in southern California in which IRS employees stayed in lavish presidential suites that cost American taxpayers $1,500 to $3,500 per night. Attendees also got free alcohol and tickets to see the area’s professional baseball team. To inspire IRS staff, more than a dozen speakers were paid $135,000 in fees, including one who got a whopping $17,000 to talk about “leadership through art.”
Additionally, multiple videos were produced for the conference. One of the videos, posted on the House Government Reform Committee’s website, features IRS employees learning a popular dance called the “cupid shuffle” as they prepared for the California management conference. It’s quite entertaining though enraging that our tax dollars have been wasted on such a venture.
“The IRS is an agency in crisis,” said Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a Republican congressman from California. “The American people expect that their tax-dollars will be used responsibly and not for financing lavish hotel suites and entertainment for government employees. The Oversight Committee will examine these egregious abuses of the public trust and an IRS culture that shuns accountability.”
Over the years the IRS has been in hot water over a series of transgressions. One of the things the agency is well known for is giving incarcerated criminals who prepare fraudulent returns tens of millions of dollars in refunds they are not entitled to. The figure increases annually and at last count the IRS doled out north of $35 million to criminals, according to a federal audit.
A few years ago the IRS came under fire for allowing 1 million foreigners—many in the U.S. illegally— to improperly claim close to $9 billion in tax credits even though they did not provide valid Social Security numbers on their return. Not long after that, the tax agency got in trouble for handing out $33 million in bogus electric car credits.
The report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which was obtained by The Washington Post in advance of its release, criticizes the IRS for lax oversight of foreigners who use an alternative form of identification instead of a Social Security number. Many of the foreigners who use the code, known as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, are illegal immigrants, according to government officials and immigration experts.
In a statement, IRS inspector general J. Russell George, who wrote the report released on Tuesday, called it ‘disturbing’ that more than $11 billion in improper payments were being handed out each year.