- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sequestration was supposed to have cut government to the bone. The White House canceled tours for schoolchildren and ordered the U.S. Navy to ground the Blue Angels in a public display of sackcloth and ashes. Behind the scene, partying on the taxpayer dime hasn’t slowed down.

The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed Friday that employees of the EPA set up their own gym in a Landover, Md., warehouse, rented at a cost to taxpayers of $750,000 per year. The gym was filled with expensive appliances and furniture the agency purchased four years ago but never used. Nobody at the EPA seemed concerned about the waste of public money.

The same attitude prevails at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), caught blowing $50 million to send bureaucrats on taxpayer-funded vacations. The Treasury Department’s inspector general found IRS employees put on 225 conferences over a three-year period, and instead of negotiating the lowest possible hotel room rates, agency officials demanded free stuff in return for paying full price. “They ended up with free drinks, they ended up with tickets to games — basically kickbacks,” explains Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

No expense was spared to entertain these humble public servants. At one conference, $135,350 was spent on “leadership through art” presentations. Agents who were not exhausted by overwork learned how to line-dance and participated in parody videos of “Gilligan’s Island” and “Star Trek.” A “happiness expert” was paid $11,430 to teach everyone how to be happy.

Tea Party groups weren’t very happy having the IRS sit on their tax-exempt status applications. During inquiries into this scandal, several Democratic House members tried to shift blame, relating accounts of how pitifully overworked IRS agents sweated over the torrent of applications for tax exemptions in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that groups of citizens, like individual citizens, are protected by the First Amendment.

A few Democrats praised the IRS vigilance under the trying circumstances. “There isn’t a single person up here who doesn’t understand what is going on here, and what it says about the hidden nature of political donations,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. “This is what demands serious attention by the IRS.” This convenient tale isn’t actually true. The court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission came down in January 2010, and applications for 501c(4) status declined between 2009 and 2010. There was no flood of applications during that period, so it’s not clear why the IRS agents should have been overworked.

Agency employees relish their naughtiness because they know they can get away with it. They see that top-level bureaucrats are allowed to “resign” with full benefits and land another soft job with good pay for not much work. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson landed on her feet at Apple. Low-level warehouse employees know their public-sector unions will protect them from the firing they often deserve.

Until the culture changes, the partying will go on nonstop. The EPA and the IRS impose heavy burdens on the rest of us. Nobody gets mercy during a tax audit, nor do EPA agents show reluctance to confiscate property from a business they declare “guilty” of violating an obscure environmental regulation. Those who abuse the public trust deserve no mercy. It’s the rest of us who deserve a weekend at a luxury resort.

The Washington Times

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