Here’s How the IRS Spends Your Tax Dollars

Illustration by Chelsea Pieroni

The investigation into the machinations behind the Internal Revenue Service’s actions during the 2012 election cycle has brought more concerns to light, On Tuesday, it was revealed that the agency was not as fiscally responsible as many tax-burdened Americans would hope.

The IRS spend $17,000 to hire a speaker that painted pictures of former basketball player Michael Jordan and U2 singer Bono in order to motivate employees at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, California, the agency’s inspector general said in an annual report. While that may be the most unnecessarily expensive item on the tax agency’s conference bill, the total amount spend on such meetings from fiscal 2010 and 2012 was no small figure. As the document revealed, the IRS spent approximately $49 million on 225 conferences during that period, including $4.1 million on the Anaheim event.

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At the conference in Anaheim, some IRS employees stayed in rooms typically costing as much as $3,500 per night, while $135,350 was spent on speakers, including the $17,000 lecture given by Eric Wahl on “The Art of Vision.” The report showed that the IRS contract with Wahl said he was “uniquely qualified” because of his “artistic abilities and his presentation skills,” noting that in each presentation, he would “create a unique painting that reinforces his message of unlearning the rules, breaking the boundaries, and freeing the thought process to find creative solutions to challenges.” Those were the pictures of Jordan and Bono.

As for the cost of hotel accommodations, the IRS “specifically requested numerous upgraded rooms and other concessions” from the Anaheim hotels, the report said. Not only that, but the costs could have been reduced had the agency negotiated for a lower room rate instead, the report also noted. Even worse, officials used money earmarked for hiring more enforcement personnel to cover some of the costs.

An IRS fact sheet stated that the focus of the Anaheim meeting was safety and security training after a suicide attack on an IRS facility in Texas earlier that year made the issue a top priority. But even so, funds were diverted from security to finance speakers and pricey accommodations.

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That particular event was the most expensive conference held between 2010 and 2012.

“The wasteful Anaheim conference is one example of a culture of excess that plagues the IRS and many federal agencies,” Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight panel, said in a press release. “Taxpayer money meant to pay for a core agency mission, the hiring of more enforcement personnel, was instead spent on a lavish party.”

The surprising amount the IRS spent on conferences is adding to the criticism the agency has facing since it disclosed that it had singled out groups whose names contained words like “Tea Party” or “patriot” for additional examination before deciding whether to grant tax-exempt status. The tax agency is under investigation by six congressional committees and the Justice Department, and now the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has planned a June 6 hearing on IRS spending.

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While the inspector general’s review found no fraud or misconduct, IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement that “taxpayers should take comfort that a conference like this would not take place today.” He added that “sweeping new spending restrictions have been put in place at the IRS, and travel and training expenses have dropped more than 80 percent since 2010 and similar large-scale meetings did not take place in 2011, 2012 or 2013.”

In the report, the inspector general said the agency paid approximately $34,000 to house local employees at hotels during the conference and paid for two top officials to stay in presidential suites that cost, on average, between $1,499 and $3,500 a night. However, the report also noted that “receipt of room upgrades, and the welcome reception and breakfast provided by the hotel, were complimentary and did not entail the use of any additional government resources.”

Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS

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