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IRS spent $50 million on conferences over three years

Jun. 4, 2013 - 06:00PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
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Danny Werfel, the new acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, told lawmakers Monday he's looking at the 'broad spectrum' of the agency's activities in an effort to restore public confidence. (Mike Morones / Federal Times)

The IRS spent about $50 million on 220 conferences between 2010 and 2012, according to information released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

One August 2010 conference in Anaheim, Calif., cost $4 million for 2,600 people. Event planners did not negotiate lower room rates for federal employees and instead focused on receiving perks such as presidential suites. The spending included payments of $135,000 to 15 conference speakers, according to the committee release.

“The IRS is an agency in crisis,” House Oversight and Government Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a news release. “The American people expect that their tax-dollars will be used responsibly and not for financing lavish hotel suites and entertainment for government employees.”

A detailed report on conference spending at the IRS is set to be released Tuesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and Issa, announced a June 6 hearing.

The conference report is the latest trouble for the IRS, following the May 14 release of a TIGTA report detailing the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and the subsequent resignation of then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller.

The new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, said Monday he’s looking at the “broad spectrum” of the agency’s activities in an effort to restore public confidence, and he promised “absolute transparency” in what he finds.

Werfel told a House subcommittee that he has appointed two career IRS officials to oversee the unit that improperly targeted Tea Party groups for additional scrutiny. They are Ken Corbin, who takes over for the suspended Lois Lerner as head of the Exempt Organizations office, and Michael Julianelle, who will be acting commissioner for the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division.

Separately, Todd Grams, the Veterans Affairs Department’s chief financial officer, told VA employees Monday he is leaving to become chief of staff at the IRS.

While the FBI, the inspector general and several congressional committees probe how the IRS decided to flag Tea Party groups, Werfel told lawmakers he’s already come to an “inescapable” conclusion: The targeting was inappropriate, and there was a “fundamental failure” by IRS management to prevent the affair and to halt it once it was discovered.

President Obama tapped Werfel to lead the agency last month after the scandal broke. Werfel, a former controller at the Office of Management and Budget, will remain at IRS through September.

The Monday hearing revealed few details of who ordered the targeting and what motivated it. “During our audit, we did pose that question, and no one would acknowledge who gave that direction,” testified J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

George’s report last month revealed that IRS staff singled out groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot” or “9/12” in their names, sending their applications for tax-exempt status into limbo for more than a year. Werfel testified that there are still 132 “potentially political” groups backlogged for at least 120 days — and some for as long as 500 days.

“This is unprecedented, Congressman,” George told Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. “During the Nixon administration, there were attempts to misuse the Internal Revenue Service in manners that might be comparable.”

George said he’s also looking into whether the agency issued improper bonuses to employees.

Gregory Korte of USA Today and Sean Reilly of Federal Times contributed to this report.

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