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IRS Spent $50 Million On Conferences For Employees

Another example of government waste:

The Internal Revenue Service, already under fire after officials disclosed that the agency targeted conservative groups, faces increased scrutiny because of an inspector general’s report that it spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.

The report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general about conference spending is set to be released Tuesday. The department issued a statement Sunday saying the administration “has already taken aggressive and dramatic action to reduce conference spending.”

(…)

The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about “leadership through art,” the House committee said.

IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said Sunday that spending on large agency conferences with 50 or more participants fell from $37.6 million in the 2010 budget year to $4.9 million in 2012. The government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1 the previous calendar year.

On Friday, the new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, released a statement on the forthcoming report criticizing the Anaheim meeting.

“This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era,” Werfel said. “While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred.”

We’ve seen stories like this before, of course, but given the fact that the IRS is already an agency under siege due to the targeting scandal this is only likely to make things worse. The new Acting IRS Commissioner is set to be before a House Committee this afternoon. Something tells me it’s not going to be an easy time for him.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Since we’re looking at government waste, when do we have a look at the CODEL (Congressional Delegation) boondoggles to hardship places like Paris, London, Bali, etc. which happen on a regular basis during every recess?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Moderate Mom says:

    Unless I am a stockholder, I don’t care what any private company spends on a conference. It’s their business and their money to waste. However, I feel like I am a stockholder in the federal government, given the rather hefty tax bill my husband and I have every year, and I do care about this type of waste. While I can understand the occasional need for some type of conferences, I don’t think any government employee needs to stay in a Presidential Suite, nor do they need dance lessons or to drink champagne in hot tubs, or any of the other crazy things we’ve seen going on at government paid conferences in the last few years. This type of stuff really needs to end.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  3. anjin-san says:

    @ Moderate Mom

    Since you are concerned about government waste, I am sure you can share some of the many comments you have made decrying corporate welfare for major oil companies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  4. Red Queen Texas says:

    So… The question is: Is this spending in in-line with corporate America?

    My guess is yes.

    I have attended events where Aerosmith played as an event, with famous guest speakers at keynote… taking over entire amusement parks… NONE of that comes cheap.

    My thoughts: One of the things used to rile the unaware is using BIG NUMBERS.

    We are a nation of 300 million, and we do outstanding huge scale things.

    Why not list the cost of all mailboxes… or traffic lights… or emergency room costs for the uninsured?

    Why not tally the cost of ALL government employees?

    We should ban it all and fire them all today, right?

    See? Easy outrage.

    (… I should be on FOX News!)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  5. DC Loser says:

    As a retired government employees, I do think the nature of the conference spending detailed here are indefensible for a government agency. Having conferences in resort hotels, paying above per diem rates for lodging, giving out tickets to sporting events, etc., all qualify as Fraud, Waste, and Abuse by any stretch of the imagination. I have seen my own DoD agency holding conferences in luxury resorts (though supposedly at government per diem rates) with the associated ‘golf socials’ which I find distasteful and problematec from a FWA point of view. I do want to see these types of abuses ended. But to single out the IRS, while similar shenanigans occurs in other departments (DoD for example) and in Congress itself, is just a bit hypocritical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. Gustopher says:

    $50M for 220 conferences over a three year period (2010-2012, inclusive):
    $227,000 per conference
    73 conferences per year

    The $4M conference for 2600 employees comes to just over $1,500 per employee, for airfare, lodging, and the contents of the conference itself.

    This is sounding pretty cheap.

    In an agency that is currently under fire for a “scandal” that ultimately comes from a lack of consistent standards across the country, I think there should probably have been more conferences.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  7. rudderpedals says:

    One more like this and Issa’s four years on the committee will score the goods on ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.

    Which is like thirty cents to every American over four years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I think that someone concerned about governmental accountability would have to note that 75% of the spending in question happened during FY 2010, 15% in FY 2011, and 10% in FY 2012. So obviously someone realized that it was a problem and reigned it in several years ago.

    I can’t wait to see how Issa tries to bloviate this one into THE BIGGEST SCANDAL SINCE WATERGATE!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  9. David M says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things, because people think $50 million over three years matters in the federal budget.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  10. Sam Malone says:

    If you actually do the math…instead of just swallowing propogand whole…this is no big shakes.
    $227,000 average per conference? And they got all that shwag? Cool. Someone is doing a good job.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  11. @Gustopher:

    Even if the price for each attendee is reasonable, do they really need to hold a travel conference more than once a week? Are they really doing anything at most of these conferences that couldn’t be done via teleconference?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Sam Malone says:

    115,000 employees (iffy number…check me if you have a more accurate one)
    73 conferences a year.
    Theoretically that’s 1575 employees per conference.
    1575 is a lot of people on a Go-To Meeting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Jeremy R says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Even if the price for each attendee is reasonable, do they really need to hold a travel conference more than once a week? Are they really doing anything at most of these conferences that couldn’t be done via teleconference?

    Right, but now your talking efficiency reforms, which would get little media attention, and not SCANDAL :P. I’m glad AP pointed out that they’ve reduced conference spending by nearly 90% since the prior norms in conference spending became somehow scandalous, though they really buried that lead in the article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. john personna says:

    I betcha “conferences” is spin on “training.”

    And what, do you want an untrained auditor on your case?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Without seeing the report, we have no idea what these conferences are/were. They could be regional quarterly meetings or training sessions for CPE credits, or the annual tax update trainings, or leadership conferences for new managers.

    When I was at PwC, traditionally they would hold a series of week-long annual training sessions at a central location, and fly everyone there. So all of – for example – 1/4 of all the second-year tax associates across the country would go to a conference center outside DC for a week for four weeks in July.

    In 2008 they changed it to “regional” trainings. The largest office in a given area would host, and they did about sixteen of them across the US. I was in the Boston office, and everyone else in New England would come to us for the week. Same for NYC, Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. The number of training sessions increased 400%, but the cost per attendee was drastically lowered since all of the largest offices were playing host, and staff from that office were the trainers.

    So, without seing the report, the only thing that we know is that 220 occurred over three years, and that the cost per year plummetted from 37.5 million to 5 million, with no data on frequency, purpose, or location.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. de stijl says:

    God forbid if we treat high performing government employees like human beings. We need highly qualified and decently compensated government professionals and we need to treat them as such.

    I, for one, don’t want my FDA inspector chosen out of the scrum that morning at Home Depot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  17. Dazedandconfused says:

    Having a hard time seeing the economic sense in flying people around the country to train them. Moving the trainers around tends to be a lot cheaper. Less air-fare, fewer hotel rooms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. MarkedMan says:

    Before we go off on a tizzy of self righteousness here, lets remember the $16 muffin Republican Media BS-athon of last year. So someone from the conference stayed in a presidential suite that would have cost thousands nod dollars per night if someone walked in off the street? But hotels have all kinds of packages for conferences, and for 2600 attendees I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that includes a bunch of comped rooms and suites or at least some maximum upgrades. I know that your local Marriott will comp the organizers room for as little as a couple dozen attendees.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  19. bill says:

    in the age of “skype”, really? the reality is that they probably have a budget and must “use it” or lose it next year. most of the gov’t “works” that way, even the military.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Mike says:

    The IRS hired 15 speakers to present at the conference in Anaheim, Calif.,
    including $11,430 for positive psychology guru Shawn Achor – referred to as
    a “happiness expert” by the sources – to lead a 90-minute workshop and
    $17,000 for artist Erik Wahl to hold a session that used painting as a
    learning tool, said those familiar with the report.

    In addition to that, tens of thousands of dollars were spent so that IRS
    employees could also hear from an “innovation expert” and a “diversity and
    inclusion expert.”

    One of the speakers received a $25,000 fee in addition to a $2,500
    first-class airline ticket to fly the speaker to the conference, according
    to the report.

    The contracts for the presenters were awarded as sole source contracts,
    meaning no competition occurred, and taxpayers cannot be assured to have
    received the best price for the speakers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. [...] night on CNN, Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash did a report on the IRS’s latest scandal about overspending on conferences and revealed the rather amusing fact that the IRS cannot locate its own [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0