WASHINGTON – The 2,609 Internal Revenue Service managers who flew to Anaheim, California, for a three-day conference on “Leading Into the Future” were treated to a welcoming reception with free cocktails and gifts, including briefcases, engraved pens and Los Angeles Angels baseball tickets.
Some attendees stayed in two-bedroom presidential suites at the Anaheim Hilton, complete with wet bars and billiard tables.
One conference speaker was paid $27,000 in taxpayer money — plus $2,500 for a first-class plane ticket — to deliver two one-hour speeches on how seemingly random ideas can drive innovation. Another speaker collected $11,430 to give workshops on how to increase IRS managers’ happiness at work.
These and other examples of what many in and outside of government would consider excessive spending are detailed in a new audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. A House hearing on the matter is set for Thursday.
The audit reveals that the IRS spent $4.1 million to fly managers in its small business and self-employed division to California in August 2010 with the approval of top agency officials.
Inspector General Russell George said in a statement that the expense — one of 225 conferences the tax agency held from fiscal 2010 through 2012 at a cost of $49 million — “do not appear to be a good use of taxpayer funds” at a time when the government is putting a premium on efficiency and managing costs.
IRS managers were unable to provide auditors with accurate data or supporting documentation on many conference costs in Anaheim, George said.
The agency has made many changes to rein in employee training and conference spending, prompted in part by revelations of similar excesses at a four-day junket in Las Vegas that the General Services Administration held in 2010 for 300 employees.
“Taxpayers should take comfort that a conference like this would not take place today,” acting IRS said Commissioner Danny Werfel, appointed by President Barack Obama in May to clean up the agency. “While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses . . . were inappropriate and should not have occurred.”